About Making a Will

by Carrie Ferland

A will is a legal document that defines the final wishes of a deceased person. The author, or otherwise known as the testator, can use a will to bequeath his assets to others, resolve his financial obligations, and arrange for the care of the relatives he left behind. Making a will is somewhat of a delicate art, and requires forethought and planning for proper execution. Before you begin writing your will, you should understand the main components to ensure your final wishes are appropriately conveyed and carried out to your satisfaction.

Structure

Even the most basic of wills covers four formal topics: the declaration, the family, the executor and the assets. These four components are crucial to the validity of your will. Failing to cover even one topic could leave your final wishes up for debate, allowing your relatives to challenge the validity of the entire will during probate. To prevent this, you should create a draft addressing each section before you get started, and use this as your guide while you draw up your final version.

Stating Your Declaration

When drafting a will, the first clause should be your declaration. Here, you will state that this document is your final will and testament, that you are of legal capacity to establish a will, and that you revoke all other previous wills and codicils. You should include a declaration, even if this is your first will, to void any prior documents or statements you may have made that could be used to dispute your true intentions.

Defining Familial Relationships

For testators with spouses or children, it is essential to define these familial relationships. If you are legally married, you should include your spouse’s name and the date on which you were married. If you have children, including adopted children, add a list of each child’s full name (maiden and married, where appropriate), date of birth and Social Security number. Include both minor and adult children, even if you intend to disinherit them. Otherwise, the court may believe you’ve mistakenly excluded a child, and award her a portion of your estate.

Appointing the Executor

An executor (executrix for women) is the person charged with managing and administrating your will and estate. Your will should clearly identify the person you want to appoint as your executor. Choosing a good executor is important. You should appoint someone you trust to carry out your wishes, even against the disapproval of other relatives. Your executor should also be a responsible person who is able to handle your estate’s financial obligations, including income and estate tax filings. You can also name additional “alternate” executors, who can serve if your first choice is unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility.

Dividing Your Assets

The last requisite of making a will is the division of assets, where you bequeath your physical possessions to whomever you choose. When drafting this section of your will, clearly define which beneficiary should receive each asset; try to avoid joint inheritances whenever possible. Consider your most significant assets first, including real property, cash, investments and the like, before assigning most personal belongings. You should include a “rest and remainder” clause when finished, which acts as a catch-all by bequeathing any and all remaining assets to one person. Anything not explicitly bequeathed to your beneficiaries will go to this individual. A spouse, child or close friend is usually named as the beneficiary for the rest and remainder. It is prudent to consider consulting a lawyer when making a will, as well the laws of the state the testator lives in.