A will is a legal document that transfers your assets to specified people and/or organizations upon your death. You can change your will as many times as you desire during your lifetime, with each new will invalidating any previous wills. When you pass away, it is your most recent will that dictates all asset allocation. A will can be drafted by you or by an attorney, but it is highly recommended that your “Will” be drafted by a skilled attorney because of the strict legal requirements that must be met in order for a “Will” to be legitimate and binding.
Wills are your last chance to dictate your wishes and ensure that they are carried out, so it is essential that your “Will” be thorough and well-crafted.
What Should a Will Include? (To Name a Few)
An Executor :
An executor is a person or entity, including your attorney or law firm, that you select to administer your estate per the specific directions set forth in your will and to manage your assets and their transfer in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws. In the event that the person or entity initially named as executor dies before you or cannot act for you due to illness or incapacitation, you should name at least one or two alternate executors to take their place. Additionally, the duties of an executor can be demanding and time-consuming, so it is important to have a named alternative if your chosen executor decides that he or she is not up to the task.
The Beneficiaries :
Beneficiaries are the individuals or organizations that you have designated as recipients of your assets upon your death. Generally, your “will” should dictate all beneficiaries by name, and then allocate all items, asset amounts or the percentage of the estate that each of the beneficiaries is to receive. It is important to be specific when expressing your wishes regarding who will benefit from your passing and in what ways; if you fail to make your intentions clearly understood within your will, then the allocation of your assets and their recipients will be decided by a judge pursuant to state law.
Guardians for Minors :
If you have children under the age of 18, it is crucial that you name a guardian within your “will” who will be tasked with raising your child or children in the event of your death and who will manage all assets left to them. The person selected to raise or care for your children, often known as the Guardian of the Person, may or may not be the same person that you have named to manage your children’s assets. If you choose to designate a separate person to manage the assets named in your “will” on behalf of your children, this person is known as Guardian of the Estate. However, if you fail to appoint a guardian in your will, then someone may petition the court to be appointed as guardian, regardless of your desires. In order to ensure the best possible guardians for your children, naming alternate guardians is encouraged. Additionally, many state laws require that a guardian transfer all assets held for a child to that child upon his or her 18th birthday. Many parents balk at the idea of children receiving substantial financial assets at such an early age, as the potential for misuse is high. However, concerned parents can avoid such a daunting financial situation by utilizing a testamentary trust within their will.
Distribution of Specific Items :
Occasionally, a family member may request a certain sentimental item upon your death. Thus, if you desire to leave a specific piece of property, a cherished ring, a valuable family heirloom, or other meaningful items to a particular benefactor, you must designate that person within your will to ensure that they will receive it.
Distribution Outright or in Trust :
When deciding on how your assets should be allocated after death, you may choose to either distribute an asset or assets immediately and directly to an adult beneficiary or direct that the assets be left to an adult to be held in trust for a prescribed period of time. When left outright to a beneficiary, those assets will be owned in their entirety by the beneficiary at the time of transfer. When held in a trust, those funds may be transferred after a certain number of years, until certain ages are attained, until a certain event occurs, or over a person’s lifetime.
A Pour-Over Will
A “Pour-Over Will” is a mandate created to assure that any assets not in the “trust” at the time of your death will be transferred or “poured over” into your “trust” in the event of your passing. Any assets that are “poured over” are then distributed in the same manner as assets already held in the “trust.” Ideally, if you create a “revocable trust,” you should also create a “Pour-Over Will” to act as a safety net for any assets not contained within the “trust.” However, it is advisable to have any significant assets transferred to your “trust” during your lifetime in order to avoid any necessity for a probate proceeding. While “Pour-Over Wills” can
A Living Will
A living will is a written legal document that spells out any and all medical treatments you would or would not want to be used to keep you alive. Living wills may also provide specific guidance on other decisions such as pain management, the use of life support systems, or organ donation. To read more on Living Wills, click here.
Ultimately, the proper handling of wills, trusts and administration of
Other Areas of Practice
Power of Attorney
Advance Health Care Directive