Do you know why you need a will? There are many good reasons including making sure that your property is divided according to your wishes and that any minor children are taken care of if you pass away. A will is the best way to make sure your wishes are recorded and followed after your death.
If you die without a legal will, it is possible that your wishes will not be carried out, even if you verbally conveyed your wishes to your family or wrote a will without using a lawyer.
How To Make A Legal Will
When you are beginning will preparation, it is important to know how to make a will legally binding. Just writing your wishes on a piece of paper and signing it will not create a valid will. Officially called your Last Will and Testament, this document is best developed through an estate planning attorney to ensure that your assets and wishes are adequately and properly expressed in your will.
What Are The Requirements For A Will To Be Valid?
There are several requirements that must be met to make a will valid. A lawyer can ensure that all the components to make a will valid are included in the official, final document. In addition to including all legal requirements, a lawyer will help ensure that your will sufficiently covers all of your wishes. There are several provisions that will be included in almost every will.
- The designation of an executor. This is your personal representative, such as a sibling, who carries out the various provisions of the will. Your executor (personal representative) will be responsible for ensuring that your property is distributed according to your wishes.
- The inclusion of the beneficiaries of your property and other assets. Specific language needs to be included to ensure no confusion as to which person will receive the designated property or assets. An attorney will make sure that beneficiary designations are as specific as possible.
- The instructions for any alternate beneficiaries or executors to be appointed if your first choices are unavailable.
- The designation of guardian(s) for any minor children. If your pet is an important part of your life, you may also designate guardians for your pet(s).
It is important to use the services of a lawyer to ensure that all of the necessary components of your will are not only included but that the language is specific, detailed, and able to hold up to potential challenges with asset and property distribution, including real estate.
Why Are Wills Important?
In the aftermath of a death, emotions are high. Many things need to be taken care of —and many decisions need to be made. The clarity of a legal will in place is invaluable to a grieving family.
A will is also the best way to control how your property is divided after you pass. For example, perhaps there is a daughter who loved playing your family piano while growing up, and it would be very meaningful to have it after you are gone. Designation for items such as this, or other types of family heirlooms such as jewelry or art, will keep the burden off your family and help to reduce any potential tension or arguments over your possessions. This is also critical for distributing funds, real estate, or other types of property to your beneficiaries. In addition, they will have an easier and faster time of receiving your assets.
A will also ensures any minor children are cared for by someone you have chosen. Without designated guardians included in a legal document, the courts will decide who will care for your children after you are gone.
A will keeps your assets away from estranged relatives, ex-spouses, or others not listed in your official Last Will and Testament. If you pass without a will (also called intestate) your property will automatically go to your heirs, parents, or siblings depending on specific factors.
An estate planning attorney can also help you save estate money on taxes and include gifts and charitable donations in your will, such as designated funds for medical research, animal welfare organizations, or environmental organizations. These gifts and donations provide funds for causes you care about and help offset the estate tax.
What Assets Should Be Included In A Will
Being aware of what assets should be included in a will is key to making sure it is comprehensive. Here are some common types of inherited assets that can be included in a will:
- Cash and cash accounts
- Real estate
- Investment and brokerage accounts
- Personal property, particularly high-value items
- Heirlooms and other property with emotional value or other importance
- Assets with joint ownership with right of survivorship
- Assets held as tenants in common
Some types of assets allow transfer on death (TOD) instructions, which provides protection and ensures your wishes are carried out as you see fit. Accounts like retirement accounts or insurance policies that require you to designate a beneficiary do not need to be included in a will, as the beneficiary designation will control and ensure the funds are distributed.
Generally, if you have a trust already in existence, or you are creating one along with your will, your attorney will draft a specific type of will that will allow your property to go into the trust if you so wish it.
Assets without beneficiaries are usually subject to the probate process, which can be very lengthy and complex. Going through probate court is often very difficult on families and can result in your wishes not being carried out regarding your varying types of assets. Most wills will include provisions that ensure any property you own will be distributed according to your wishes, whether it is specifically identified in your will or not.
Now that you have the information on why you need a will, it is time to take the next step.
Do I Need An Attorney?
It is highly advised to have an attorney when developing and finalizing a will. An attorney will ensure that your will includes all the necessary components, detailed and comprehensive language, clarity on beneficiaries and who gets what, when, and how, clarity on guardianship for minor children, and that the will, as a whole, is valid and legal.
State laws can be quite complex for estate planning and issues involving probate court. When working with an experienced attorney, you will have a legal expert to assist you from start to finish — giving you the confidence and peace of mind that your will is constructed correctly and your final wishes are being honored.
Contact the estate planning attorneys at Golden Key Law to schedule a free consultation. Not having a will leaves your loved ones with additional burdens of making tough decisions, resulting in family litigation.