This is an important question. Maybe you didn't even know you needed a will. Well, we are here to tell you that yes, every person over the age of 18 needs a will. Further, if you're wondering whether you have an estate, the answer is also likely yes. If you have a bank account, a car, or any belongings whatsoever, you have an estate. An estate is defined as total property, both real and personal, owned by an individual prior to distribution through a trust or will.
No matter how small that estate may be, once you pass away, it must go somewhere. It will either be given to a person or an entity designated by you through a will or a trust, or the state must decide for you.
Can you handwrite a will that holds up in court? Absolutely But, the requirements are very specific and understanding the legal implications of what you've written is incredibly important. Moreso, we like to tell people that the problem with these homemade wills that end up shoved in a fire safe is twofold:
- What people don't put in the will, rather than what they do;
- Changed circumstances
A will needs to be well thought out with multiple scenarios considered, particularly if you have children. We need backup plans - Plan A, B, C, and D. That's where your attorney comes in.
You know you need a will, but what should it do? As we said before, the most critical aspect of creating your will is contacting your family estate planning attorney. A skilled legal attorney can ease the burden of this process and ensure that your will holds up properly after your death.
Your attorney will gather the information needed to draft your will or trust. There are four major issues you will need to consider that belong in your will:
Who will be the Executor of your will
- He or she will hold the responsibility of distributing your property, so choose this person wisely. This is another instance when having an experienced estate planning attorney can make a huge difference. Your attorney can listen to your wishes and information about the “candidates” for your executor and help you make a decision if you are unsure.
Who will care for your dependents
- If you have dependents, you will need to specify who you wish to be the guardian. This also includes any assets and life insurance you leave to your dependents until they reach the age of 18.
- This can become quite nuanced - for instance, not every dependant is a child. Sometimes, dependents include elderly parents and physically or mentally impaired adults who live with you.
- Pets can also be included under dependants if you wish to appoint a caretaker for them.
- Your attorney can help you determine the best person(s) to name as guardians. This isn't always an easy decision. We recommend someone who is financially and mentally stable, shares your parenting values and is 100% prepared to take your dependents should they need to. It's also wise to name 1-2 backups, just in case.
List of legally owned assets
- These include, but are not limited to, bank accounts, real estate, brokerage accounts, personal belongings, furniture, jewelry, digital assets, and financial support.
- Try to think beyond the scope of just tangible items. We're in a world much different from our grandparents and even our parents. Assets can no longer be broken down into a home, a bank account, and a few sentimental items. You want to include as much information as possible so that your executor and beneficiaries get the full scope.
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