Like many people, you may be tempted to put off drafting a will, but you know it's an important task. Once you've set aside a time to put your last wishes on paper, there are certain points you should keep in mind. Taking care of important basics will ensure that the time and effort you've put into drafting a will ensures that your possessions will be distributed the way you want after you die.
Naming an Executor
If you have kids, you may have named a favorite relative or close friend as a godparent. However, while the role of godparent is often largely ceremonial, that's not the case for an executor. Executors must perform all the tasks associated with settling your final affairs and distributing your assets, including filing your final income tax return, paying any debts and guiding your will through probate. Your executor doesn't have to be a lawyer, but having a legal or financial background wouldn't hurt. Barring that, you may want to name a bank or other financial institution as a co-executor along with the person you designate as your main executor.
Your will is designed to avoid squabbles among family members over who inherits the bone china Aunt Libby gave you for your college graduation or who gets your rebuilt antique car. Your will also allows you to designate how to distribute specific assets among your children and to your spouse or partner. You may also designate which assets from your estate go to your favorite charity rather than to family members. However, in most states, you cannot completely disinherit a spouse. In some instances, children may also have a right to some part of your estate even if they are not named in the will.
Care for Dependents
Your will should also include provisions regarding care of minor children, parents for whom you are a caregiver and other dependents. Yes, you can include arrangements to care for Ranger, Fluffy or other family pets in your will. If you care for children or relatives with special needs, your will should address their financial support as well as physical care. Along with a will, you should draft a letter of intent that includes your child or relative's medical history, any trusts or financial assets you've set and other special instructions for your child's or relative's care.
Dotting I's and Crossing T's
It may seem really basic, but if you don't fulfill basic requirements, the court may declare your will invalid and throw it out. Include a statement in your will that you are of legal age, of sound mind, and that you intend for the will to express your final wishes for the distribution of your possessions. You must sign the will in front of at least two adult witnesses who are competent to testify in court if necessary. Place the will in a safe location, and provide your executor with a copy of the will.
- Nolo: Inheritance Rights
- American Bar Association: Writing Your Will -- What Do I Have to Do to Make My Will Legally Valid?
- Elder Law Answers: What is Required of an Executor?
- Estate Executor: No Job for Amateurs
- Bankrate.com: Preparing a Will
- Bankrate.com: Planning for a Special-Needs Child
- Nolo: What a Will Won't Do
Chris Blank is an independent writer and research consultant with more than 20 years' experience. Blank specializes in social policy analysis, current events, popular culture and travel. His work has appeared both online and in print publications. He holds a Master of Arts in sociology and a Juris Doctor.