A will is one of the most important documents you will ever sign. It is more than a method of property distribution; it is a way of planning for the future support of those individuals you have cared about during your life.
According to the American Bar Association, even do-it-yourself will kits can be unreliable. For one thing, the rules with respect to wills and estates are complicated and vary from state to state. Complications may arise if the will is not properly created to conform to the law. These may cost money, and the will could even be declared null and void. It may therefore be prudent to consult a lawyer, even if you just show her a will that you've prepared yourself and have her make sure that it conforms to state laws. When looking for a lawyer, choose one who has experience with wills, trusts and estates.
Appoint an executor in your will. Your executor is the personal representative of your estate and will have access to all of your assets. Among other things, she will oversee the funeral and burial, pay your taxes and debts, control your assets, inventory your personal property and make sure that your beneficiaries receive their inheritances. These are enormous responsibilities, so nominate someone you trust. It can be a friend, family member, attorney or someone else. Also name an alternate executor in case your first choice cannot or will not take on this role.
Use your will to appoint a guardian for your minor children. This person is sometimes called a testamentary guardian, and will be responsible for your children’s health and well-being as well as their financial affairs, including the administration of any inheritance. You can, however, separate these roles and appoint a guardian of a minor and a guardian for the estate. A related decision to also make at this time is that of the age you would like your children to be when they receive their inheritance. They can either receive it in stages, or all at once, and the age at which it will be received can be directed in your will. It is also wise to nominate an alternate guardian in case your first choice in unable or unwilling to take on the responsibilities.
Disposition of Assets
Make an inventory of your assets and their worth. Include things like savings, jewelry, shares, insurance policies, collections, works of art and vehicles. If you wish to leave specific items to particular beneficiaries, make a note of these. These lists will assist you when making your will. You can also make provisions in your will for the payment of your debts. Before making the will, list all of your creditors and debts, including credit cards, loans, lease agreements and mortgages. While these will probably not be specifically mentioned in your will, if you keep the list with your will it will assist your executor in carrying out her duties.
Beneficiaries and Bequests
Make sure that you have the full names of all beneficiaries. These may be your partner or spouse, parents, children and anyone else you wish to leave your property to. Also have substitute beneficiaries in case your first choices die before you do. Also think about leaving something to a charity or other association. People often make bequests to organizations they would like to support.