How to Write a Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament is often a great starting place for your estate planning. It is also the final plan for all the things you want taken care of in the event of your death, be it assets or the way in which you want to be buried.

You may go about doing this by using a last will and testament form that you can find available through any number of services available online, or you can hire a professional such as an attorney to construct your document for you. How complicated or simple your estate happens to be will dictate how to write a will.

When constructing a will and testament you will want to be sure you know what specific items are necessary to include in the text. This can include what to do with material possessions, how to handle your burial or alternative service, how you want your assets divided up, instructions for donations, medical care and any other important information you may wish to include in the document.

Making a Will

You can construct your last will and testament on your own or with the aid of any number of resources available to you online. Some of these online resources provide a last will and testament form that acts as a template for you so that you can simply add in those things which are particular to your collection of assets or belongings you wish to bequeath, or the special instructions you have for your care or final arrangements. Some of the things you will want to include in your will and testament include:

  • Assets – You will want to ensure that your document includes a comprehensive list of all your valuable assets. Among these assets you should include in your will are things like bank accounts, investment vehicles such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or 401(k)s or other retirement vehicles, other investments such as stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, artwork, jewelry, personal belongings, family heirlooms, or even vehicles. Anything that is yours you wish to designate as going to someone in particular can and should be included in your will and testament.
  • Debt – Most people pass away leaving some form of debt behind. The person who is in charge of overseeing your estate and executing your will typically handles the debts you have and satisfies them with any liquid assets you may have. The first debts that are taken care of usually include your probate costs as well as any funeral expenses. This may even take into consideration the debt your beneficiaries may incur as a result of inheriting any assets. For instance, if your will and testament bestows a home to someone, will they be able to afford the payments on any existing mortgage or the property taxes, or will they need to sell the house?
  • Naming your beneficiaries – Your beneficiaries are the people and/or organizations that receive your assets after you die. The people named as beneficiaries who often receive a decedent’s property are usually spouses, children, siblings, or other close relatives and friends. However, your final will and testament can name organizations, such as a church or social club as beneficiaries. You can even discuss how you want your pets taken care of in your will.
  • Appointing an executor The executor of your will is the person who carries out the wishes you laid out in the document. Oftentimes, the executor of your final will and testament is someone like your attorney or your accountant, people familiar with your assets and with estate law and generally impartial because they have no stake in the execution of your will. You may have more than one executor appointed to carry out your final wishes as well with one acting as a primary executor while the other acts as the secondary. The important part in selecting an executor is that it be someone who can carry out your instructions without bias. If this is to be a professional person such as an attorney, you will want to provide funds for the execution of these duties.

What to Do After Making Your Will

Once you have completed your last will and testament there are some other matters which need to be tended to in order to complete the process and ensure you have created a valid document. For one thing, you must make sure your will is signed in front of witnesses, and that the witnesses sign the will, in order for it to be considered valid. Anyone witnessing your will and testament must be of legal age and of sound mental capacity. Your witnesses need not read your will in order to sign it. However, some states may prohibit your beneficiaries from acting as witnesses to your will. You may have your witnesses sign a notarized affidavit affirming that they saw you sign your will.

Once your last will and testament is complete and you have named guardians for any minor children as well, it is important to secure your will in a safe place to ensure its instructions are carried out at the appropriate time. You may wish to place a copy with your attorney as well as in a safety deposit box where your family can access it when the time comes. Once you have your will taken care of, you can continue your estate planning.

When to Review and Change Your Will and Testament

You should periodically review your last will and testament and make sure that everything is as you wish it to be. Changes in your life’s circumstances, especially significant ones that may include large purchases, may necessitate your making changes to your document. Some of the reasons you may wish to initiate changes, or add codicils to your will include:

  • The birth or adoption of a child.
  • Getting divorced or married.
  • Purchasing a home or other real estate.
  • Selling property that was included in your will.
  • The birth of grandchildren.
  • Moving to a different state.
  • Making a significant purchase such as a motorhome or a boat.
  • The death of a beneficiary or one of your executors.
  • Changes in the tax laws.
  • Altering provisions of the original will and testament.
  • A significant change to your financial situation.
  • Adding a section to deal with digital assets.

Related Article: Living Will

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