Many people have a hard time thinking about death. However, by planning for the orderly division of your property after you die, you can help assure a better life for your loved ones and friends. Most people can get by with a simple legal document called a “basic will." However, if you have a great deal of property or wealth, own a large business or wish to make very specific provisions, you may need a more complicated will. That would likely require the assistance of an attorney.
Most people need only a “basic will,” a simple legal document directing how you want to divide your property and possessions among your beneficiaries. A basic will specifies these terms, appoints an executor to carry out the terms and can make provisions in the event you leave behind minor children. You can create a basic will without legal assistance, although an attorney can help you to avoid errors and omissions. Many companies also sell basic will preparation software at a cost savings to an attorney.
To make a basic will legally binding, the legal advice website Nolo.com says that you must sign and date your will, with two witnesses observing the act. They must sign the will to attest that they watched you sign it. No other technical requirements exist, although Nolo.com recommends that you have the will notarized as well. This will help stave off uncertainty about the authenticity of your will. After you complete the will, store it in a safe place and let your executor know how to access it. Destroy any copies of previous wills to avoid confusion.
Your basic will must satisfy various legal requirements. According to Nolo.com, it must identify who you are, where you live and mention your spouse and children, if applicable. It must also name your executor and clarify that person’s powers. A legal will should specify how your estate will pay for any legal fees or other costs associated with executing your will, as well as any taxes or debts, revoke any previous wills and provide for scenarios where a court finds parts of the will invalid or if the will is contested.
As for the terms, you should decide who should get your assets, who would gain guardianship of any pets, whether you wish to forgive any personal debts owed to you and anything else of importance to you. In the event you leave behind minor children, you must also specify who shall become their guardian and whether any property or money shall enter into a trust for them to inherit in the future. Lastly, some states have additional laws that affect a basic will, so you will need to check with your state to make sure your will is valid in your home state.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.