Deciding what to do with a lifetime of assets is no easy task. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that about 67% of American adults don’t have a will. However, creating a will is a highly responsible act of love and care that can:
- give your family members and heirs a roadmap for handling your estate
- give you peace of mind knowing that your assets will go where you want them to
- creates a legacy that lasts beyond your lifetime
Since August is National Make-a-Will Month, it’s the perfect time to finally draft a will, or update your existing one, to ensure your final wishes are respected.
There are many things to consider when you start planning out your will. Keep in mind that the main purpose of the will is to name beneficiaries to receive all your assets and stipulate which assets go to which beneficiaries after your death. You’ll also choose an executor, someone whose job it is to carry out the wishes listed in the will and distribute your assets to the beneficiaries you’ve designated. To get started, make a list of all your assets, including investments, properties, bank accounts, art, jewelry and other valuable personal property.
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Each state has its own laws governing estate planning and the preparation of wills. If the paperwork is not filled out or filed in exactly the right way, problems can arise such as beneficiaries getting more or less than intended, contesting of the will, or unforeseen taxes. With that said, it’s highly recommended that you work with an estate planning professional to ensure that your will can be executed as smoothly as possible.
For each asset on your list, name a beneficiary to receive the asset (or a percentage of the asset) when the will is executed. Your beneficiaries may be family members, loved ones, or even charities and nonprofit organizations. It’s worth mentioning that leaving a charitable contribution in your will, known as “legacy giving,” carries several benefits:
- Legacy giving ensures donors will be remembered for their generosity and for making a far-reaching impact on the lives of many others. For example, a gift to the Miami Jewish Health Foundation can improve the quality of life for hundreds of our residents today, and into the future.
- Legacy giving can confer numerous tax benefits to the donor’s estate and their families.
- With legacy giving, donors can add stipulations in their wills for how their gift will be spent. This can help you rest assured that your legacy will be preserved the way you want.
Naming an Executor
The executor is the person who reads your will, makes sure assets are distributed to the beneficiaries, and uses the funds in your estate to pay off any remaining debts. Your executor should be a fair, ethical, and responsible person you trust. Most people choose a spouse, adult child, or close family friend as an executor. Ideally, you should get their permission before leaving them with executor responsibilities – they need to be willing and able to take them on. You can also allocate funds from your estate to hire an unbiased attorney to act as executor.
Your will is only legally valid after it has been signed before witnesses. Different states have varying requirements regarding the number and identity of witnesses – and some states may also require your will be notarized. After your will has been signed and legitimized according to law, keep it in a secure location (such as a water and fireproof safe, or in a safe deposit box).
Finally, be sure to revisit and update your will whenever your desires regarding your beneficiaries and asset distribution change, or if you have any big life changes such as moving (especially if you may be affected by a different state’s estate planning laws), making a large purchase or investment, or experiencing a marriage, divorce, or death among your beneficiaries.