Five Important Things to Know
Before Writing Your Will
What is a Will?
A Will is a formal legal document that states what will happen to your wealth, property or possessions after you pass away. Regardless of the worth of your possessions, it is important to pen down your Will. It may include items that hold sentimental value to you.
The person who writes the Will is a testator while your possessions come under your estate. Whoever you name in your Will to manage your estate is an executor who has to follow the guidelines left by you. The person who receives part of your estate is a beneficiary. A Will also names guardians of minors and your dependents. A guardian is usually a person you can trust to take care of your family.
Will do not cover certain accounts like insurance policies and retirement funds. However, you may list beneficiaries before opening such accounts. Once the list is on record, it will help decide who receives the assets after you die.
It does not matter when you write your first Will. Any one of us can experience an unforeseen demise. Therefore, whatever little possessions you have, you should keep an account of it in the form of a Will. Your mind will be at ease, knowing that your assets will be safe even after your demise. Moreover, it will save your loved ones the hassle of deciding what to do with your possessions after you pass away.
Let us look at some things you must consider before writing down your Will.
Consult a Legal Advisor
Before writing down your Will, consult a lawyer or an estate planner to learn about your state's laws governing a will. Consult them regarding the difference between a Will and Testament so that you have a clear idea. They will help guide you if you are unsure of where to start. You do not require a lawyer to write your Will, but they will be able to provide you with effective strategies for wills and estate planning.
Consider the Probate Period
Probate is the legal period it takes to assess the validity of a Will after you die. This period may vary in different states. It may take as long as a year, depending on your assets. If you have written a valid Will, it will go through a legal process to assess its authenticity. During probate, none of your beneficiaries will be able to touch your assets. After the probate is over, the executor can distribute your assets as per your wishes stated in the Will.
If your Will is deemed invalid, a judge will appoint an administrator. An administrator would be someone impartial and a stranger to your heirs. The judge authorizes them to distribute your assets that may go against your wishes, but according to state laws.
An administrator will also intervene if you did not mention an executor in your Will. However, in this case, if your Will is valid, the administrator is bound to follow your wishes. The state laws governing a Will and the probate period will bind the administrator. In other words, the probate period will assess the legality of your Will before the distribution of assets among your beneficiaries.
Consider whether to have Joint Or Separate Wills
Before writing your last and final Will, consider whether to write a separate Will or a joint one with your spouse. You and your spouse may or may not own joint properties or accounts. Estate planners generally advise couples to draft separate Wills if they own separate assets. Some US states do not consider joint Wills. Therefore, learn about your state laws before drafting your last will.
There are very few chances that you and your spouse will die at the same time. Remember that probate laws in most states favor the surviving spouse. Moreover, you or your spouse may have ex-spouses and children from previous marriages. In that case, drafting a separate Will makes more sense.
Even if you and your spouse own the same business, it is better to write separate Wills, even if they are similar. Contradictions in your Will with equal shares in the business will lead to confusion. When this happens, the executor or the administrator may take matters into their own hands. Therefore, it is up to you to protect your business.
A witness is someone in whose presence you write or sign your Will. Arrange for two or more witnesses, according to your state laws.
You must have the witnesses sign a notarized affidavit. An affidavit is a written statement confirmed under oath or affirmation. Do this in the presence of a notary, who can authorize the legal formality of the affidavit to be presented in court. This will cut the probate period short. In addition, the court may not require the presence of the witnesses to confirm the authenticity of the affidavit.
Be mindful of whom to name as your executor
Consider an executor who you can trust. It may be your spouse or your adult child. It may even be a close relative or a trusted friend. You can also name your attorney as your executor or select joint executors, including more than one person.
In other words, choose executors who you trust to execute your wishes. An executor will be responsible for paying your bills and debts. In addition, they will distribute a certain amount during the probate period to your dependents. They may also have to make decisions not specifically outlined in your Will. Give them enough space to do so.
You may start writing your first Will at any age if you have certain possessions. It is essential to save your family the hassle of deciding what to do with your properties and assets after you pass away. It would be best to consider all of the points mentioned above before writing down your Will.
Consult a legal advisor if you have no idea where and how to start. Consider that probate period and do whatever you can to cut that period short. A certain fee is deducted during probate from your collective assets.
All the tips mentioned above will help you have full control over your assets and help you execute your wishes accordingly.