Most people don’t want to talk about wills, but for people who want to save their heirs headaches and unnecessary legal expenses, it’s a topic worth considering. A will sets down in writing everything from how assets will be divided, to what song will be played at the deceased’s good-bye from this world.
The individual charged with ensuring that your wishes are respected is the executor. A responsible family member may be a good choice as executor of your estate – all of your possessions and assets – or you can choose an impartial third party to avoid family squabbles that may cause ill-will among family members.
Your will should describe assets for distribution, conditions for distribution, and which of your heirs receives what.
Should You Contact an Attorney?
If your estate is complicated – you own a business and several properties, for example – you should seek the counsel of an attorney who specializes in estate planning and estate law. These estate planners can help you reduce the tax dollars you pay to the government when you pass on, leaving more for your relatives.
If your holdings are diverse, widespread, and extremely valuable, spend the money to hire an estate planning legal team to make sure your wishes are clear and locked down in a will that can stand the scrutiny of a probate judge.
On the other hand, if your estate is small – you rent, own some clothes and a car – you might go online and put together a DIY will. So, if it’s simple, consider trying an online document preparation website.
Should you and your spouse have a joint will?
Most experts don’t recommend a joint will describing assets held in common and the distribution of these assets. Why?
It’s unlikely that you and your spouse will die at the same time, but a joint will goes into effect when one spouse dies. Separate wills can be created to address assets owned by an individual in the family, where family heirlooms will end up, and other matters.
With two separate wills, one spouse can leave all assets to the surviving spouse for lifetime use, with asset distribution taking place when both parties are deceased.
Choose Your Beneficiaries
Give this part of your will some thought. One heir may need cash to pay off a student loan, while another just bought a new home and could use some family heirlooms.
Some families divide assets in advance, walking through the house and deciding together who gets what furniture, clothing, jewelry, tools, and other valuables. Maybe they place stickers on the underside of the furniture to eliminate arguments over who gets custody of Grandma’s china cabinet.
Choose a Guardian for the Kids
If tragedy does strike, who will raise your minor children? Before you decide, be sure to discuss your intentions with the prospective guardians. No one can be forced to be a guardian, and if a potential guardian refuses the job, the court will decide who will raise the kids.
Discuss guardianship with a relative or friend and include it in your will – just in case.
Treat a Will as the Important Document It Is
A will often ends up before a probate judge who reviews the terms and determines whether the deceased’s wishes are, indeed, being followed. The probate court usually requires the original copy of the will and won’t accept photocopies for consideration.
Keep your family wills where you keep other important documents like the deed to the house and birth certificates. A safe deposit box at your local bank will help keep you and your heirs protected.
Should You Update Your Will?
Absolutely. Every time a significant event occurs, you may want to make adjustments to your existing will. If your youngest child marries, if you inherit the family’s lakeside cottage, if you plan to gift cash to a single heir – all of these changes should be incorporated into a revised will.
It may cost legal fees to update a will, but putting your wishes in writing can help you rest assured that things will go as you want them to, the family assets are protected, and you’ve avoided family squabbles.
The original will – not a copy – drawn up by an attorney who specializes in estate planning – can help you save on taxes and protect your family according to their individual needs.
Talk to a lawyer or an estate planner at your local bank to make sure your affairs are in proper order.
Then relax and enjoy life.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.
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