A will is an important document containing your last wishes and the directions for the distribution of your property to your loved ones. Your will should address all of the matters that are relevant to your estate, as your provisions will dictate what happens to your family and property after your death.
Your State's Laws
The estate and probate laws in your state of residence determine what makes a will valid. If your will does not meet the legal standards of your state, the will may not be acceptable for probate, the legal proceeding used to appoint your executor and grant him the authority to carry out your provisions. The exact standards for a will vary by state, but your will may need your actual signature or a certain number of witnesses.
You should make a complete list of your assets, including real estate, financial accounts and valuable items you own. An asset or item that is not accounted for in your will may not go to the person you wanted to leave that belonging to. You can assign your assets an approximate market value during list preparation so you know how much each person is receiving under your will's terms.
Your Legal Heirs
Your legal heirs, like your spouse and children, may have automatic rights to your estate under your state's laws. If you do not wish to leave anything to a particular heir, you must mention the heir is being omitted intentionally in your will. Failing to name an omitted heir may give the person a share of your estate under law. Your state's laws may not allow you to disinherit your spouse, even if you choose to do so in your will.
An executor is the person who will access your accounts, transfer assets to heirs and handle the payment of your estate's debts and taxes. A dishonest or neglectful executor may harm your estate and delay the transfer of assets to your heirs. Your executor has the right to refuse the responsibility, so speak to the person you wish to name before finalizing your will. You may name a successor executor in your will to act for your original executor if she cannot perform the duties at the time of your death.
A Legal Guardian
You can name a legal guardian for any minor children you have in your will. The guardian will become your child's caregiver in the event of your death. If you do not name a guardian, the court will appoint a guardian for you, and the person may not be your first choice. Talking to the person you wish to name as your child's guardian before completing your will ensures the person is ready for the obligation.