Facing your own mortality is difficult, but don’t let the anxiety of what is to come stop you from planning for the future. The most basic part of your estate plan is a will that identifies your fiduciary or executor and what should be done with your assets after your death.
A thorough will can ensure that your assets are used and distributed to the correct people or organizations and reduce any legal and family strife. Once you have decided to create a will, keep these five things in mind:
Identify All Your Assets
Even before you meet with a lawyer, take a good accounting of all your assets. Your financial assets, bank accounts, credit cards, retirement funds and investments should all be accounted for.
Also take time think about what property you will be passing on to family members. If you are the sole owner of a piece of property, whether it is land or a home, you need to specify who will inherit it.
A specific bequest is a gift of an item or an amount of money to a particular person or organization. For example, family mementoes such as wedding rings or furniture are commonly passed down. You may also choose to bequest a certain amount of money to specific family members or a charity.
Keep in mind that specific bequests are paid before the rest of your estate. You may desire a certain amount of your estate to be given to your favorite charity and the remaining amount be given to your children and grandchildren. However, if you become ill and must use a large portion of your estate for medical costs, your specific bequests will still be paid first with your remaining financial assets. If this occurs, your family may be left with a much smaller inheritance than you intended.
In addition, it is also important to keep in mind that any specific bequests made in your Will may be subject to an Inheritance Tax. For that reason, some people would rather prepare a memorandum identifying specific bequests, rather than including those items in their Wills. The downside to doing this is that because the memorandum is not legally binding, your executor does not have to honor it.
Once your specific bequests have been made, if appropriate, it is time to decide who will receive the remainder of your estate. If you intend to name more than one beneficiary, each person will get an equal share or a percentage that you decide.
Guardians and Trustees
If you have child who is a minor, you will need to designate a legal guardian. You may also want to choose a trustee for your child. Your child’s trustee will manage the assets he or she inherits and any other accounts. You may choose to leave detailed instructions of how your assets are to be handled or used for your child’s benefit and future.
If your child is not a minor, consider appointing a financial planner to help manage your child’s money. The guidance of a financial planner will relieve the pressure of managing finances and ensure that your money is used well.
Fiduciary or Executor
Your fiduciary or executor will manage and distribute your assets after your death. You should choose someone who is trustworthy, understanding, organized and knowledgeable. You should also name an alternative fiduciary in case your first choice is unable to complete his or her duties.
Once you have completed your will, meet with your estate lawyer every few years to make any adjustments that are needed. Any life changing events, such as the birth of a child, the death of a family member, or your retirement are also good times to update your will.