Let’s be honest, most of us will procrastinate whenever possible especially if it’s an unpleasant task.  And planning or updating a will or trust is certainly not at the top of most people’s list of entertaining things to do.  Yet, it is one of the most important ways that you can protect your family.  Putting together the right plan can save on taxes, family feuds, hurt feelings, legal costs etc.  Depending on the size of your estate, you may need to hire a lawyer.  However, you can also write your own will or trust with these ten tips from FirstLantic.

  1. Determine whether to create a will and/or a trust

What is the difference?  A will is a written document expressing a deceased person’s wishes, from naming guardians of minor children to bequeathing objects and cash assets to friends, relatives, or charities. A will becomes active only after one’s death with the one exception of a living will. A trust is active the day you create it, and a grantor may list the distribution of assets before their death. There are irrevocable trusts, often created for tax purposes, which cannot be altered after their creation, and living trusts, which can be changed by the grantor.

  1. Decide whether you need a lawyer

You may want to consult an estate planning attorney if you have an extremely complicated financial situation, or you simply want to make sure that you are doing everything correctly.  However, if you want to try doing it on your own, you can take advantage of online templates and guidance using tools such Legal Zoom or Nolo among others.

  1. Select beneficiaries

This will likely start with your spouse and children and then will branch out to include other relatives or friends.  Make sure that the beneficiaries listed on your financial accounts are consistent with your will or trust.

  1. Choose the executor

This is the person that will ensure that your wishes are carried out properly and is most often a relative or close friend.  You can name several executors in case a family member or friend is unable to perform the duties.  You can also choose an attorney or your CPA.  However, it is preferable not to appoint a corporate trustee because of the expense. They charge 1% of the estate every year and they require you to have all your assets with them.

  1. Pick a guardian for your children under the age of 18.

If your child is older than 18 but incapable of taking care of themselves due to a serious mental or physical disability, you will also want to choose a guardian.  This could also apply to older relatives that you are responsible for and want to ensure that they are taken care of in the event of your death.  Guardianship is probably the biggest decision that you will ever make, and you should consider your options carefully.  It is common practice to ask someone’s permission before naming them as a guardian and it is also common to name multiple guardians in case one of those named is not able to accept the responsibility.

  1. Determine who gets what property and belongings and be specific.

For example, if you have jewelry, artwork, or other collectibles, it’s better not to simply say that it should be divided up equally among your children.  That is a surefire way to have relatives or friends disagreeing.  Keep the peace by taking the time to include details.

  1. Consider attaching a letter to your will

Letters can be used to express sentiments that you want to convey or can allow you to be more specific about certain wishes that you want to be carried out.

  1. Sign the document properly

Check the requirements of the state in which you live as some do not accept electronic wills or request a certain number of witnesses who do not include any of the beneficiaries. You don’t want your will to be contested simply because you did not have the proper number of witnesses.

  1. Determine where to store

You can keep the original in a safe deposit box or with a lawyer but make sure that someone you trust knows where to find it as well as any other important papers and passwords to financial institutions.   In some cases, wills can be stored and even executed electronically, however, check the rules for your state.

  1. Review and update as necessary

Make sure that you update your will as often as necessary to account for new properties or acquisitions such as art, jewelry, cars, etc., or changes to financial accounts.

 

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