Components of a Legal Will

by Laura Wallace Henderson
In most states, those who witness your will, must be people who will not inherit under the will.

In most states, those who witness your will, must be people who will not inherit under the will.

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While thinking about your death may not appeal to you, estate planning is an important part of managing your assets. Creating a will allows you to provide instructions regarding the division of your belongings at the time of your death. An attorney who specializes in estate planning can help you navigate through the laws and procedures that govern wills in your state.

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Purpose

Wills are instruments that provide written instructions regarding your wishes for managing your estate after your death. A will also allows you to present to the court your choice of guardians for any minor children, dependents and pets. If you die without a will, the court can decide how to dispose of your assets, as well as determine who to appoint as guardians for your children.

Considerations

The initial action in preparing your will involves considering how you want to divide your personal belongings and monetary assets including business ventures, real estate, bank accounts, stocks, and items with sentimental value. Depending on your personal desires and the complexity of your estate, you may decide to prepare a very basic will or a lengthy, in-depth document with extensive directives. Attorneys often provide clients with worksheets to help them decide what items to include in a will and what actions to consider when leaving instructions for executors and family members.

Executors

One of the most important decisions in preparing your will involves determining whom to select as the executor. Your executor will be responsible for managing your estate, carrying out your directives and following proper legal procedures after your death. Consider how well the individual you choose to serve will be capable of carrying out your instructions and act in your best interests. Let your executor know where to locate your will upon your death.

Making Changes

You can make changes to your will while you are living and capable of making decisions. Known as codicils or amendments, these written documents allow you to add directives to an existing will, as well as change your choice of executor or adjust your gifts to charities and beneficiaries. Review your existing will regularly to ensure it continues to reflect your wishes. When making an entirely new will, destroy any old originals and copies to avoid confusion or conflict at the time of your death. While laws may vary between states, common requirements include signing your completed wills, amendments and codicils before witnesses who must also add their signatures to your documents.