What Documents Do I Need to Bring to Prepare a Last Will & Testament?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

What Documents Do I Need to Bring to Prepare a Last Will & Testament?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

When writing a last will and testament, certain information is essential to properly prepare the document. To assist your attorney in creating a complete last will and testament, you need to provide your attorney with information about your assets, debts, and beneficiaries.

Colleagues look over documents

Personal Assets

The entire purpose of a will is to distribute your assets to the people you wish to inherit your property. This is done by first identifying the property you have (referred to as assets) and then designating the people you choose as beneficiaries to inherit these assets. Consequently, you need to bring copies of any and all paperwork related to your assets to your lawyer visit. Common assets people leave to others in their will include the following:

  • Deeds to any and all real estate
  • The titles of any vehicles
  • Checking account statements
  • Savings account statements
  • Money market account statements
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Retirement accounts
  • Other investments
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Timeshares

In short, anything you own that can be passed on should be identified and listed for your attorney, so they may adequately cover the topic in your will.

Existing Debts

In addition to providing a detailed list of assets in a manner that allows them to be easily identified and located, an individual must provide their attorney with a list of debts. Debts that you should provide documentation of include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Mortgages
  • Car loans
  • Consumer debt
  • Hospital or other medical bills
  • Student loans
  • Home equity lines of credit
  • Boat loans

When a will goes through probate, debts are paid out of the assets first and only what remains is distributed to the beneficiaries.

Chosen Beneficiaries

When you leave property to beneficiaries, your lawyer and the courts must be able to identify and locate those beneficiaries in order to distribute your property. Because of this, you must include certain information about your beneficiaries in your will. Necessary information about your beneficiaries includes:

  • Full names
  • Complete addresses and phone numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Dates of birth
  • Birth certificates or adoption papers for any minor children

Further, if you designate a trustee or representative or if you designate a temporary or permanent guardian for your children in your will, you must include their name, address, and other contact information.

Before You Name a Trustee or a Guardian

A word of caution before appointing either a trustee for your estate or a guardian for your children: speak to your chosen trustee or guardian ahead of time. You cannot legally obligate anyone to serve as your representative to handle the estate if they don't want to. You also cannot legally obligate someone to raise your children if they are not willing to do so.

It is a good idea to have conversations with potential trustees and guardians ahead of time. You may wish to consider designating a trustee and some alternate trustees, as well as alternate guardians. Even if your preferred trustee or guardian agrees to the job at the time you write the will, circumstances can change, which may impact their decision.

Before You Meet with an Attorney

Before you meet with an attorney to prepare your last will and testament, you need to take some time to make sure you have everything you need. This includes a comprehensive list of assets and debts. It also includes a detailed list of the beneficiaries of your estate, including their contact information.

Finally, you need to provide your lawyer with the names of one or more people who will handle the distribution of the assets, as well as identify who will raise your minor children.

When you gather the necessary information and make the important decisions ahead of time, your lawyer will be able to create your last will and testament without delay.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.