A last will and testament sets out how your property is to be distributed after your death. A living trust, also known as an inter vivos trust, allows you to dispose of your property while you are still alive, as well as after your death. Many people use living trusts to avoid the delays of probate court and to avoid estate taxes.
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Create a written inventory of your property, including real estate, personal property, bank account funds, and intangible property such a stocks and bonds.
Identify yourself clearly in the first section of your will, and use wording that makes it clear that the document intends to provide instructions for distributing your property after your death. Include your full legal name, your social security number and your current address.
State that your will revokes previous wills and codicils, if this is not your first will.
Appoint an executor for your estate, along with an alternate. The executor administers your estate while it is in probate. If you have minor children and your spouse is dead, appoint a guardian and an alternate.
Instruct the probate court on how to distribute your property. Use your inventory to specifically state which property goes to which beneficiary.
Sign and your will in the presence of two or three witnesses and a notary public, depending on state law. The witnesses should also sign and date the will. Present your ID and the witnesses' IDs to the notary public, and have the notary public sign and stamp the will.
Draft an introductory paragraph. State your name, address and social security number, and state that you intend the document to create a trust.
Identify the assets that you will fund the trust with. They should be assets that are clearly excluded from your will.
Appoint yourself as administrator of the trust. You will remain in custody of the trust property and will determine which beneficiaries get what.
Name a successor administrator of the trust to take office as soon as you die. Be sure to get permission from your appointee before you name him. If the administrator is an individual, name an alternate administrator as well. A trust can also be administered by an organization such as a bank.
Provide instructions on how the successor administrator is to distribute the trust assets after you die. Name your beneficiaries, and specifically state which property goes to which beneficiaries.
Sign and date the trust document in the presence of a notary public, and have the successor administrator sign it as well.
Tips & Warnings
If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed to your relatives according to state intestacy laws. If you have no living relatives, your assets will be turned over to the state government.
References & Resources
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