Estate Planning Basics: Wills

By on May 15, 2018
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Our  mortality is not something we like to think about, but it is a fact of life and that is why we draft a last will and testament. There is no doubt that you have put in a lot of hard work for the things you have; why shouldn’t you have a say in what happens to your legacy after death?

Many people think estate planning is for the wealthy and retired, but that can’t be further from the truth. Estate planning is for everyone and it’s to your advantage to engage in this essential process sooner rather than later.

One of the first steps in estate planning is creating a Will, also known as a Last Will and Testament. A Will can give you peace of mind that your estate, regardless of its size and value, will be handled according to your wishes.

The Last Will and Testament

What Is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that specifies how your assets will be distributed after your death. People establish Wills for many reasons such as leaving instructions for how and to whom property should be distributed, naming an executor, naming guardians for minors, leaving instructions for paying debts and taxes, and providing care for pets left behind.

There are things you cannot do in a Will, however, such as leave property to pets or put conditions on gifted items, i.e., Matthew will receive the car when he graduates from college. Keep in mind that your Will must conform to all legal requirements, which vary by state. Seek the advice of a qualified estate planning professional to ensure your Will is completely clear and valid; it cannot be changed once it becomes effective.

Do I Need A Will?

If you are over 18 years of age, the answer is yes, you need a Will. Dying intestate (without a Will), is likely to allow the state – not your family – to gain control over your assets. This can lead to a time-consuming and costly probate process and your assets not being distributed the way you want.

The term probate refers to the process of administering a Will. Your estate will be probated either way, but if you have a Will, your estate is probated according to your directives. If you do not have a Will, the probate court decides, according to state laws, who inherits your assets. This process can take anywhere from months to years depending on the complexity of the estate.

*Intestacy laws vary from state to state. In general, if you have a spouse and children, your assets will be divided among them. If you are single with no children, the state decides who inherits your assets, usually the closest blood relative.

Drafting Your Will

Choosing an Executor

The person you name executor is responsible for settling your estate. This person is to act in your best interest at all times by carrying out the directives specified in your Will and following proper legal procedures. Executors may be responsible for such tasks as taking inventory of personal possessions, distributing personal or financial assets, and paying debts or taxes.

A person named executor of a Will must be over 18 and cannot have been convicted of a felony. Some people choose lawyers or financial advisers while others choose spouses, adult children, or friends. Executing a Will can be demanding and time consuming. Be sure to discuss the magnitude of these responsibilities with whomever you choose.

If you are named executor but unable to fulfill the role, you may decline the designation by filing a legal document called a “declination.” A contingent executor will assume responsibility. If no contingent executor is named in the Will, the court will appoint one for you.

Limitations

Beneficiary designations and insurance policies take precedence over Wills. It is important to update this information when significant life changes such as marriage or divorce occur. For instance, if you divorce and remarry but neglect to change your beneficiary designations from your ex-spouse to your current spouse, your ex will receive those assets when you die regardless of what is specified in your Will.

Managing Your Will

Annual Review & Update Your Will

Revisit your Will every year to ensure it still aligns with your wishes. You should also update your Will when significant life-changing events such as marriage, divorce, the birth or death of an heir, or real estate purchases occur.

Making Changes to Your Will

You can make changes to your Will as long as you are living and of sound mind. Changes or amendments to your Will are referred to as “codicils”. Codicils allow you to add directives to your existing Will, designate a new executor, adjust gifts to charitable organizations, change beneficiaries, etc. To be effective, codicils require your signature and the signature of two witnesses.

Living Wills

A Living Will is not the same as a Will. A Living Will is a type of Advance Healthcare Directive that specifies whether or not you want to be kept alive by life-sustaining medical procedures if your physical condition becomes terminal. A Living Will becomes effective if you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself. The legal requirements for Living Wills also differ by state; it is a good idea to have your attorney prepare your Will and your Living Will at the same time.

No matter the size or value of your assets, an estate plan will ensure your final requests are executed in the manner of your choosing and your beneficiaries are spared a legal hassle. Learn more about estate planning and speak with you trusted legal and financial advisors to draft a Last Will and Testament.

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About Harold Goldman

I am the founder of FinancialSafetyNet.org, and a Retirement Planning and Long-Term Care specialist. I am also the President of Emes Insurance Services, Inc., a Murrieta based insurance agency designed to help people with Retirement Planning and funding for College. I believe in educating my clients to become financially competent in an effort to develop plans for guaranteed income, protection against loss and tax-advantaged growth. To contact me Call (844)-376-2265

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