What Documents Are Required for Will Preparation?

By Cindy Hill

The most effective estate planning starts with a thorough review of your family and financial circumstances. You can better determine your options for your estate disposition if you have accurate information in front of you regarding your property, accounts and other assets. Knowing what documents are required for will preparation can help get you through the process more swiftly and ensure that the results best reflect your intentions.

Real Estate Documents

Compile all deeds, real estate trust documents and deeds of life estates or leases to use during will preparation. The precise title language of these documents indicates whether the property is owned solely by you, jointly with someone else or as part of another entity such as a family real estate trust. You will need to know exactly what your legal ownership interest is in real estate in order to determine whether your real estate interest needs to be addressed in your will, or whether it is a type of joint ownership that will pass automatically to your co-owners upon your death. Real estate appraisals or recent tax bills will also help establish the value of your real property interests for purposes of assessing potential estate tax liability.

Account Statements

Your bank, retirement and investment account statements will help determine the value of your cash assets. The total value of your assets will tell you if you need to address potential estate tax consequences in your will preparation. You should also examine the documents that establish your financial accounts to see whether you named a beneficiary or joint owner of the account, and whether that account may pass automatically to the beneficiary, outside of your will. Also review documents for other financial assets like annuities or loans due to you.

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Business Documents

Your will can help to ensure that businesses you have helped form, or in which you have an ownership interest, continue to operate after your death. Assemble your business formation or management documents such as partnership agreements, trade name registrations or the documents filed to establish a corporation, prior to engaging in your will preparation. Review these documents carefully to establish which of your business interests can be bequeathed to others, which will pass automatically to survivors and which might benefit from a bequest to ensure successful continuance.

Family Documents

Prenuptial agreements, marriage certificates, divorce decrees and any already existing will and trust documents should be reviewed as you plan your estate, the American Bar Association advises. Adoption certificates and findings of disability for yourself or family members also affect your will preparation, helping shape your decision-making regarding establishment of potential trusts, naming guardians and creating special provisions for particular beneficiaries.

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