Planning for the future includes deciding how you want to divide your assets after your death. Wills and trusts outline your financial wishes, and may also provide your descendants and the courts with instructions regarding the guardianship of your minor children or other dependents. Although many companies provide will forms for individuals to complete their own wills, having an attorney review your document will ensure that it meets your state’s legal standards.
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Obtain will forms. Estate planning kits and last will and testament kits vary in price. Look for state-specific software packages from legal document suppliers such as AllLaw.com (see Resources). As of November, 2010, these cost between $40 and $50 per software kit. You can also contact your local court clerk's office to ask for basic will planning forms. Expect to pay a minimal fee for the forms, which may cost you around $3 to $6 for the entire packet that includes instructions. State Bar Associations often provide free forms to download to your computer. While many general guidelines for creating estate-planning documents, such as wills, apply to everybody, individual states determine and govern specific legal actions related to wills. Obtain software kits or forms for the state you reside in the majority of the time.
Make a list of your beneficiaries, the people or organizations you want to receive your belongings upon your death. You may want to stipulate equal distribution of your entire estate between your beneficiaries, or leave a list of specific gifts for each one, such as your heirloom furniture to your daughter and your coin collection to your nephew. Consider all your belongings, including personal property, cash, stocks, mineral rights and real estate. Enter this information in the allotted areas of your will kit software.
Name an executor for your will. Decide on the person or institution you want to manage your assets and distribute your belongings to your beneficiaries as instructed in your will. Choose your executor very carefully. Your software may allow you to choose co-beneficiaries to work together, and successor beneficiaries in case your first choice elects not to serve.
Complete all applicable parts of your state-specific will form. If you have minor children, you may want to nominate a person to be responsible for their care, as well as a person to manage the assets you leave to your minor or incapacitated beneficiaries.
Sign your completed will in front of witnesses and, if your state requires, a notary public. Make a copy of your will and place your original in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box at your bank. Notify your executor of the original will’s location so your executor can locate it upon your death.
- Will software kit or forms
Tips & Warnings
Consider hiring an attorney to prepare your will and other estate-planning documents for you, especially if your estate totals more than $600,000 or if you have minor children.
Some jurisdictions have free or reduced legal services provided by attorneys for low income, disabled and elderly individuals. To find out if you qualify for this service, ask your local court clerk for information regarding legal services in your area.
Avoid costly mistakes by having an attorney review your self-prepared will prior to signing the document. Many attorneys will perform this service for a minimal fee, ensuring that your document is complete and legally binding in your state.
References & Resources
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