Writing your will can be a difficult task. Deciding who should inherit your assets and make decisions on your behalf can not only cause problems within a family, but also be a significant burden on loved ones left without advanced directives. Luckily, a will is an opportunity to take this burden off your loved ones’ shoulders and allow them to refer to your specific instructions. However, a will must be carefully planned and drafted with the help of a wills and trusts lawyer.
Read on for Blackford & Flohr’s tips for writing your will.
1. Find a Probate Attorney
The first step you should take once you’ve decided to draft your will is finding an experienced estates lawyer. Do some research on attorneys in your area. Check out reviews and ask people you know. It’s more than likely that a friend or family member can make a recommendation. Otherwise, meet with a few attorneys and discuss their rates and services.
You’ll want to work with someone you feel you can trust and forge a lasting relationship. You will need to update your will in the future as your circumstances change, so your probate lawyer should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and respected.
2. Choose a Trustworthy and Capable Executor
Selecting an executor, or the individual who will be legally tasked with distributing your assets and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled, is an important choice. While for some it might seem like an easy decision, such as a spouse or child, for many people this choice is complicated. For example, your spouse may be totally trustworthy, but may not be the best person to ask to potentially make difficult decisions and deal with the stress of divvying up your assets.
It’s important to consider carefully and evaluate all of your options when writing your will. Think about who you believe could handle this potentially burdensome job most efficiently and with the least interruption to their daily life. Probate court can take months if not years, and managing an estate can be time-consuming. You may want to avoid choosing people who are especially busy or who have young children, for instance. Refer to our tips for choosing an executor for help.
3. Select Beneficiaries Carefully
One of the most important elements of a will is choosing beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries are the individuals or organizations that will inherit your assets after you pass. Again, while these may seem obvious at first, this requires a lot of thought. For example, you may want to leave all of your assets to your children. However, one child may be dealing with some difficult personal challenges that could render them incapable of making sound financial decisions. It may be difficult, but it’s important to consider whether leaving a large sum of money to that person is in their best interest.
If something changes that causes a beneficiary to become incapable, you can always rewrite your will with the help of your probate attorney.
4. Choose a Guardian
If you have children, your will is the best place to designate a legal guardian in case something happens to you and your spouse. Every family’s circumstances are different, so the right person varies widely. Discuss this with your family to make sure you are choosing the right person. You will want to ask this person or these people before including them in your will. Make sure they understand the gravity of this designation. In some cases, they may not be able to financially support additional children. Communication is key in deciding on a guardian to include in your will.
5. Be Very Specific
Your will is an opportunity to be highly specific about who inherits your assets. Depending on the size of your estate, these decisions can affect generations of your family. Writing a will is time-consuming, but you need to be as thorough as possible in order to create an iron-clad document that properly provides for your loved ones. Your probate attorney can help you account for the important details. Make sure you have comprehensively considered and valued all of your assets by the time you reach the point of creating your will.
6. Include a Letter
Wills can be complicated and divisive. Children and other family members are often left confused or upset with certain decisions, and relationships can become strained. You can attach a letter to your will with an explanation of your choices. You can certainly verbalize this to your family members as well, but if you think your will might cause some tension, adding a letter is a great idea.
7. Sign Properly
If your will is not signed properly, you run the risk of it being deemed invalid. Your will must be signed by witnesses. In many states, witnesses cannot be individuals who stand to benefit. In Maryland, you should have at least two disinterested witnesses, with three being preferable. All witnesses must be at least 18 years old. Try to choose people who are likely to be around for a long time when writing your will. If your will is contested in court, they may be called upon to testify.
8. Update and Review Periodically
A general rule of thumb is that you need to update your will every five years. Things change all the time. People get divorced; family members pass away; new children and grandchildren are born. Make sure to keep your attorney up to date about these changes. If you need to adjust your will more frequently, let them know. It’s best to be prepared with a comprehensive will at all times.
9. Keep Your Will in a Safe Place
When a person passes, the family is dealing with stress and grief. Not being able to locate their will will only make things more stressful. Make sure at least one person you trust knows where your will can be found, in addition to any other important documents and passwords. It’s best to store the original copy in a secure place, such as a fireproof safe. Wills may also be stored and even executed electronically in some cases.
10. Include More Estate Planning Documents
Now that your will is drafted, you will probably want to add more documents. Trusts, for example, allow individuals to transfer assets however they choose. There are lots of different types of trusts. Other examples of estate planning documents you may need include
- Living will
- Power of attorney
- Advance healthcare directive
Your probate attorney can help you develop a strong, comprehensive estate plan that allocates all of your assets and ensures all of your wishes are respected after your passing.
For help writing your will, contact an Anne Arundel County probate attorney at Blackford & Flohr. We can help you cover your bases and ensure your wishes are honored and your assets distributed accordingly. Call 410.647.6677.