When you start to write a will, there are a lot of important decisions to make. In fact, thinking about what to write in your will is generally harder than constructing the actual document. You want to make careful and deliberate decisions with respect to your children, business, and assets.
Remember: if it seems hard now, it’s worth it for the family you’ll leave behind. These are not decisions you want left to the state.
If you’re ready to get started with your will, a last will and testament may be enough to meet your needs. If you are remarried, or want to give property to your grandchildren, for example, consider other types of wills.
Although we can’t make the hard decisions for you, we’re here to help make the process a little easier. Let’s walk through what to think about before you write your will.
Appoint a guardian for your minor children
When one parent dies, the other parent generally gets custody of minor children.
But if one parent is unfit, or both parents die, your family and the court will look to your will when deciding who your children’s guardian becomes. Without your wishes in writing, the state will make a decision that’s out of your control.
To keep this from happening, it’s a good idea to name your first and second choice
for a guardian. Be sure to explain the following:
• Why you believe this adult will provide stable, continuous care
• The relationship between your child and the adult
• The adult’s moral fitness to take care of your children
Discuss your decision with potential guardians before naming them in your will. Be careful about appointing co-guardians. These work best when you choose a stable couple, but you can’t predict what will happen in the future.
Choose the beneficiaries of your will
The most common types of beneficiaries are familiar faces: your spouse, children,
and extended family or favorite charities. If you’re married, generally your assets
will go to your spouse when you die.
Still, it’s important to plan for those unexpected, “what if” scenarios. You could die at the same time. Or you could be remarried. You may want assets from a previous marriage to go to your children, not your new spouse. Put these items in writing now so your wishes will be known when you’re gone.
Remember, always be clear on what property you own outright, and what property you share with a spouse or business partner. You can only give away your portion of
what you own.
Decide on a personal representative to execute your wishes
If you’re not sure how to appoint a will executor, there are a few things to keep
in mind. You should trust the judgment of the executor, also known as your “personal representative.”
Family members may save money when you appoint them as executors. But
asking children or relatives to divvy up your assets could add stress to an already painful time. That’s why best practices recommend some people to exclude as will executors. But each situation is different, so do what’s right for you.
When deciding on an administrator, know that administering an estate can be a complex undertaking. It involves notifying government agencies of a person’s death, locating beneficiaries, handling the probate court process, and more. You’ll want the executor of your will to be trustworthy and organized.
Organizing records for your will executor can make things easier. Print out an executor checklist to provide an overview of the process. Make sure your personal representative understands the responsibility before agreeing to it. You’ll also want
to share the location of important documents. This includes appraisals, warranties,
and passwords to bank, email, and other digital accounts.
• A personal property inventory with descriptions and beneficiary names
• Instructions for handling your digital legacy
• Directions for maintenance of your property
• How to and whom should care for your pets
A few final considerations
You must be of “sound mind” before you write a will. This means that you understand
• What a will is
• Who your beneficiaries are and their relationship to you
• What type and how much property you own
• How to distribute your property to beneficiaries
Avoid including certain assets in your will. You usually appoint beneficiaries when you set up annuities, life insurance, and retirement accounts, so including these assets in your will is redundant and unnecessary. Our step-by-step process can help you. Contact us to learn more about estate planning, hiring a lawyer, or coordinating the process.
Chris Bryant, Ph.D., MBA is an American family man, independent self-publishing
author, personal finance consultant, small business entrepreneur and professional speaker. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Dr. Bryant integrates education, financial consulting, and other professional services to help individuals, families, and small organizations have a better life, achieve their goals, and leave a lasting legacy. Connect with Chris@BryantWealthManagement.com or call toll-free
Chris Bryant is an American financial advisor.