While most people know the benefits of writing a will, many people die without a will in place. A will is a legal document that indicates how you wish to distribute your assets and property, as well as name a guardian for your children. Some people mistakenly believe that wills are only for those with money. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Even if you’re not wealthy, you likely own real estate property, a car or other valuable belongings, such as jewelry and electronics. Rather than have your surviving relatives argue over these items, you can put your final wishes in writing.
Writing a Will
Whether or not to use an attorney to create a will is a personal decision. Lawyers aren’t required. In fact, many people have successfully written their own legally valid wills. You can fill-out a will template available online or use estate planning software. However, if you find the process complicated or need professional advice regarding real estate property, investments or stocks, you can hire an attorney to guide you through the steps.
Using a will template is quick and inexpensive. But like any other document, the will does not take effect until you sign your name. There are specific rules for signing a will. You will need two witnesses present when you sign your name. And depending on your state, you must sign the will before a notary public.
What to Include in a Will?
- Name an executor: This is the person designated to carry out the provisions of your will. Responsibilities of the executor may include paying off your debts, filing your tax return and distributing your assets. This is a big task. Choose someone that you trust, and make sure that the person is up to the job before naming him in your will.
- Distribution of assets and property: Clearly outline how you want your personal property and assets to be divided among your surviving family members. For example, you might leave your children jewelry, the house, vacation property or your vehicles.
- Children and guardianship: If you have minor children, your will should clearly indicate who you want to become their guardian. This person can be a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin or perhaps a family friend. Without a will in place, the state will decide guardianship of your children.
While wills are an invaluable emergency planning tool, they have limitations. A will does not take priority over beneficiaries named for life insurance policies and financial accounts. If you have investment or retirement accounts, you can complete a transfer on death form and name a beneficiary. Likewise, you can complete a pay on death form to name a beneficiary for your bank accounts. After your death, the persons designated as the beneficiary inherits these accounts, regardless of what’s stated in your will. Thus, it is important to keep your life insurance and account beneficiary information updated to reflect your wishes.