Drafting a last will and testament is an essential component of estate planning. Despite the importance of having a will, a recent survey from AARP found that two out of five Americans over the age of 45 do not have one.
Putting wishes down on paper helps avoid unnecessary work and sometimes heartache upon the death of a loved one. Wills allow heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind, and can ensure that assets and possessions will end up in the right hands.
Estate planning can be tricky, which is why many people turn to attorneys to get the job done right. Attorneys who specialize in estate planning will no doubt discuss the following topics with their clients.
Assets owned: Make a list of known assets and figure out which assets are covered by the will and which will have to be passed on according to other estate laws, such as through joint tenancy on a deed or a living trust. For example, life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds will be distributed to your named beneficiaries. A will also can cover other assets, such as photographs, clothing, cars, and jewelry.
Guardianship: Parents’ wills should include a declaration of who they want to become guardians of their underage children or dependents.
Pets: Some people prefer to use their will to also dictate guardianship for their pets and to leave money or property to help care for those pets. However, pets do not have the legal capacity to own property, so one shouldn’t gift money directly to pets in a will.
Funeral instructions: Settling probate will not happen until after the funeral. Therefore, funeral wishes in a will often go unnoticed, states the legal advisement resource Find Law.
Executor: An executor is a trusted person who will carry out the terms of the will. This person should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.
People who die without a valid will become intestate. This means the estate will be settled based on the laws of where that person lived, and a court-appointed administrator will serve in the capacity to transfer property. This administrator will be bound by laws and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes. To avoid this outcome, a will and other estate planning documents are crucial.