Things to Think About When Writing a Will

By Laura Wallace Henderson

While writing a will is an important part of planning for your eventual death, many people neglect this responsibility. While this may seem like an unpleasant task, dying without a will enables the state to decide how to divide your belongings and provide care for your dependents and pets. An attorney can help you understand the complexities involved in wording your will, but there are several things to keep in mind even if you don't consult an attorney.


Writing a will allows you to control your assets after your death. By creating a legal instrument that contains directives, your will ensures that the court, your executor and beneficiaries know about your final wishes. The content of wills may vary greatly, depending on your individual wishes and the complexity of your estate. Most states require you to be over the age of 18 and mentally competent. In order to be legal, your will should include your signature and the signatures of witnesses -- two or three depending on the state -- that can testify in court. States vary on whether the will needs to be signed in the testator's presence, and many states require that the executor be the spouse of the deceased. You can review and change your will periodically to keep it up to date.


Consider everything you own, such as real estate, stocks, bank accounts and personal belongings. Some may include monetary value, while others may have sentimental importance. In addition to family members and friends, think about any charities you would like to support. Some items don't have to be mentioned in your will. These include jointly owned property, items placed in trusts, and benefits and payments from insurance policies, as well as retirement accounts that pass directly to your designated beneficiaries.

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Think about who you want to care for your minor children or any adults that rely on you for care and support. When choosing guardians for your dependents, consider how willing they are to fulfill their responsibilities as guardians, as well as how well they will respect your wishes regarding the methods you choose for raising your children. Consider how much money it will take to provide the necessary care, and outline provisions in your will for paying the expenses associated with guardianship responsibilities. You may also provide specific directives and provisions for any pets that will require care after your death.


Your executor, also sometimes called a personal representative, helps carry out your final wishes according to your will. Consider how well your executor will represent your wishes and carry out your directives with the same consideration and effort you would employ. You may prefer to choose your adult child to serve as your executor, or you may prefer to designate your attorney or a close family friend. While you can list just one executor, you may also select more than one individual to work together in submitting your will for probate, compiling inventories and overseeing the division of assets.

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Components of a Legal Will


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