Decisions Involved in Making a Will

By Beverly Bird

The nature of making a will can make it easy to become emotional rather than analytical. You might change your mind about various components of your will several times over your lifetime. However, you don’t have to rush into the process; you can revise or replace your will at any time.

Your Executor

Someone is going to have to carry out the terms of your will and pay any debts you leave behind out of your estate. You need to name this person--your executor or personal representative--in your will. Because executing an estate can be time-consuming and require certain skills, you should consult with the person you are thinking of asking to make sure they are willing to serve in this capacity. You might also want to name an alternate executor in case your first choice dies before you or is otherwise incapable of doing the job by the time you pass away. Decide how much power you want to give this person to act on your estate’s behalf. Decide whether you want to waive the requirement for him to post bond before he can take the position, which can be a costly endeavor that eats up unnecessary probate time if you don’t have extraordinary assets.

Your Children

Another important concern is your minor children, if you have any, and who will care for them when you’re gone. Your spouse will raise your children if you do not die together in a joint accident or disaster. But in the event of a catastrophe, you need to decide on a guardian for them. Speak to the person or persons you are thinking of choosing so you can take their feelings into consideration. Your children's guardian does not automatically become trustee of any money or property you have left for them, nor is she generally responsible for supporting your children financially.

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Your Assets

Some of your more complicated decisions will regard your assets: determining what they are, who they should go to and what provisions you want to make in case any of those people die before you. You can make specific bequests to beneficiaries and leave the balance of your estate to someone else, if you choose. You must also decide if you want to give assets in their entirety to someone, or if you want the asset sold and the proceeds divided among heirs. You should also think about anyone whom you do not want to inherit anything from your estate, although most states' laws prevent you from disinheriting a spouse or minor child.

Debts Owed to You

Unless you believe your estate will depend on the income, you might decide to forgive any debts people owe to you. A parent might do this, for instance, if she had loaned her adult son $30,000 as a down payment on a home and he is paying her back $500 per month. You can state in your will that the debt is forgiven so he would not be obligated to continue paying your estate that $500 per month after your death.


Don’t forget your pets. Many states consider them to be property, which makes them assets of your estate. Consider whether or not you want to bequeath Fido to someone directly to avoid this.

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Checklist for Creating a Last Will & Testament


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