As the old song goes, “tomorrow never comes”. When a person passes away, their tomorrows are over but, if they don’t have a Last Will and Testament, they won’t leave behind clear instructions about what to do with any money or assets that they own.
Approximately 55% of all Americans don’t have any type of will, according to Find Law.com, meaning that when they die there is absolutely nothing in writing to say what should happen to their assets. This is called dying “intestate” or without any legal documents. If you pass away without a legal Will it doesn’t matter what kind of living arrangements you had with anyone, or who you might have wanted to give your money and assets. Without any clear cut say in who gets what, the only thing that your family will inherit is a big mess.
At this point you should be thinking to yourself “I wonder what I need to do in order to write a will?” If you are, the good news is that we put this blog together today to help you. Enjoy. (By the way, if you can afford it, paying a professional to put together your Last Will and Testament is always a good idea.)
Will Writing Rule #1: don’t leave any room in your Will for interpretation. Make sure that the wording in your Will is extremely specific so that there will be absolutely no question about your intention.
- Be as exact about who you are as possible. You want your name and address to be clearly stated as well as the fact that you are sound mind (very important) and that you aren’t writing it under any type of duress or stress. (i.e. nobody’s forcing you)
- Be even more exact about how you divide your estate. When it comes to assets you need to be extremely specific or, if you can’t, stick to percentages. This will save any confusion if you own, for example, a second home or a business and it has the possibility of going up or down in value.
- Revoke all previous Wills. If this isn’t the first time you’ve written a Last Will and Testament, make sure that in the new one you formally, in writing, revoke any and all previous Wills and/or codicils.
Will Writing Rule #2: Communicate with your family before you pass away to reduce any surprises. Simply put, if people in your family know what to expect (if anything) from you when you pass away, letting them know ahead of time will cut down on problems when you pass.
- It’s your money and assets, but try not to leave anyone out. There are obviously many people that you might want to leave your money or assets and there might even be a few that you don’t want to leave anything. Keep in mind that decisions you make in your Will have the power to affect people long after you’re gone, and plan accordingly.
- Talk to your family. If you don’t want your wonderful children arguing with their stepmother, the woman he loved before you died, talk to them before you go about anything that might have sentimental, or financial, value.
- Don’t forget the “residual clause”. If you own many assets there are bound to be a few loose and when you pass. By using a “residual clause” you can leave anything that you left out to any person, or any organization, that you please.
- Initial and date every page of your Will. This is pretty much self-explanatory.
Will Writing Rule #3: Pick an Executor carefully. You will be gone when all of this is happening, so make sure you pick someone you know you can trust to carry out your Will.
- Name the Executor specifically in your Will. This is the person that you’ve chosen to carry out your wishes after you’re gone and their name should be on your will so that there’s no confusion that they are the specific person you chose. You might also considering naming a second Executor as a “backup”.
- Make sure you pay the Bond, if necessary. In many cases a Bond will need to be posted in the probate court where your estate will be settled. Some states might not require a bond while others definitely need one and, if your Executor is from a different state than you are, it’s more likely that they will have to pay a bond to deliver your Will.
- Make sure to pay those last bills. In your Will you should definitely empower your Executor to use any funds necessary to cover your last bills, your funeral, and any other expenses. You certainly don’t want to leave anyone with your unpaid electricity bill.
Will Writing Rule #4: Sign your Will , get Witness Signatures and have it Notarized. As silly as it might sound, more than a few people have forgotten to either sign their will or have it notarized, or forgot to get the witness signatures, negating anything that it might say.
- Make sure it’s Legal. Keep in mind that laws tend to vary from one state to another. If you want to be certain that your Will is legal make sure that at least three witnesses sign it and that one of them is also a public notary.
- Keep it safe, but easy to access. The last thing you want is to send your family on a wild goose chase trying to find your Will after you pass on. A safety deposit box is a good idea but, no matter what you do, make sure that you your family knows where it is. Making copies and signing them in blue ink (not black) is an excellent idea as well.
- Let a Lawyer look at it. While there are plenty of sample forms that you can find online, nothing beats a good set of legal eyes to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
We hope that the advice above was helpful and insightful. If you have any questions about writing your Will, questions about inheritance taxes or financial questions in general, please let us know, send us an email or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you ASAP.