Getting ready to create your will:
Okay, so you get the idea and importance of creating a will. But what does it actually look like to make one? How do you prepare before you meet with an estate planning attorney, and what are the concrete steps once you do?
If the attorney you hire is worth his salt, you won’t need to have a set in stone plan figured out when you go in for your consultation. That’s part of the reason you’ve hired him or her.
But what you will need is to preemptively evaluate your relationships.
Who do you want your heirs to be? Who do you want to be the executor of your will? Think honestly and realistically about your family and friends. Having a general idea of what you want to give to whom, and who you want to be in charge of that process, will set you up to have a more profitable consultation with your lawyer. He or she can be your guide through the ensuing steps.
Working with an attorney on the different sections of your will:
Your Last Will and Testament will be a legally enforceable document, meaning the courts make sure that it is carried out as intended, and it must be signed in the presence of at least two valid witnesses. Typically, a will is made up of five parts, and you and your estate planning attorney will go through a process to lay out each section and make sure it’s exactly how you want it. The sections go as follows:
Recitation of Family and Friends
Here you’ll name your heirs and beneficiaries so that no one whom you wish to inherit some of your assets will be left out or forgotten.
Requirement for Payment of Expenses
In this section, you’ll lay out a plan for how your assets will provide for the different needs you have at your time of death, such as standing debts, your funeral, and burial arrangements, etc.
Division of Assets
Who gets what stuff? This is the nitty gritty of exactly what your heirs will inherit. You’ll want to add in backups in case someone doesn’t want what you are leaving to them or in case an heir dies before you. Your beneficiaries can be anyone of your choosing – descendants, personal friends, or a charity. You can also be as specific as you want, leaving individual items to individual people, and so on. However, the danger of getting too specific is that if you change your mind, then you have to create another will. Usually, the safest thing to do is to use percentages and be less specific about particular items if you can be, but it’s your prerogative to formulate your asset distribution any way you like.
Appointment and Empowerment of Executor
In the fourth section, you’ll appoint an executor of your will, and give them official authority to carry out its stipulations. You’ll want to choose someone you both trust and are confident can realistically do this. It’s also wise to appoint a backup in the case that your executor is unable or unwilling to fulfill their role at the time of your death.
The fifth and final section of your will wraps up any loose ends, but most often deals with two main issues. First, it adds a clause giving your heirs the ability to disclaim. This means that anyone who receives something from you can say they don’t want it. Second, it deals with mini-trust details. A mini-trust is a trust within your will that provides for your heirs who aren’t old enough to receive their inheritance, and whose inheritance will be delayed until they are a certain age. We’ll talk all about trusts for minors in a different chapter.
This might seem like a lot to think about, but don’t be overwhelmed. The first step is to find a lawyer you trust and are comfortable talking through family and personal affairs with. After you do, you’ll have a trained professional to walk you through all the details.
It’s also important to note that estate planning and creating your will is a process you’ll go through over a period of time with your attorney, not a one-time event.
Because we know it can feel confusing and complicated, we’ve broken our estate planning process down into five straightforward steps. That way our clients know what is happening during each phase of the process. Check it out by clicking here.