Much of our lives are spent working to provide for ourselves and our family. However, if you don’t have a will, others will decide how your estate is divided when you die. Follow these three simple steps to make a will that expresses your provision for your loved ones:
1) Find a good lawyer to do your will. Hand-written or fill-in-the-blank kits are often out-of-date and may not conform to state laws. Though a professionally-prepared will may cost a few hundred dollars, it could save thousands for your estate.
2) Complete the will. Be sure it includes the following:
- Who inherits your property. Make a list of all your assets and their approximate value. Then decide who gets your property, when they get it, and in what form. If you die without a will, the state decides what happens to your assets.
- Who will care for your minor children. Name a guardian (caretaker) for your children and a trustee (who distributes assets for children until they are mature and capable of making their own financial choices). Without your written instructions, the court will select a guardian who may not be the best choice.
- What happens if you’re incapacitated. A power of attorney gives someone legal authority to make health care and financial decisions for you if you cannot make these decisions yourself. A living will gives your doctor your desires regarding life sustaining procedures, artificial nourishment and organ donation. You’ll need both.
- How you minimize estate taxes. Many people have estates much larger than they realize when life insurance, retirement benefits, home, farm or other real estate, savings and securities are taken into account. Structure your will to avoid the unusually high estate taxes.
- Who administers your will. Choose an executor or a trustee. This person carries out the terms of your will.
- What gets donated to charity. Federal and state tax laws allow your estate to receive a charitable deduction for the full fair market value of a gift. Your will can remember the work of your favorite charity by donating a specific dollar amount or a percentage of your estate.
3) Update your will as needed. Review your will every three years to be sure it fits your present situation and conforms to current state laws.
Make it a priority to have your will drafted soon. It will not only allow you to express your desires regarding your health and resources, but will also give the maximum provision to those you love and wish to benefit.