What You Need to Know about Your Will

A will provides the peace of mind that comes from planning to pass on the fruits of your life’s labor to your loved ones. Without a will, the probate court will decide how your assets are to be distributed and, if minor children are involved, with whom they will live.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal declaration that enables you to direct the disposition of your assets upon your death. Assets covered by a will include tangible assets, such as your home and your car, and intangible assets, such as bank accounts and mutual fund shares in your name. Other rights and benefits, such as insurance proceeds and pension rights, typically are paid directly to your designated beneficiaries and are handled outside of your will.

Generally speaking, a will includes the following items:

  • Your full name
  • Statement that the document is a will
  • The date
  • A statement revoking all previous wills
  • Specific bequests to transfer particular pieces of property to a named beneficiary
  • A general bequest, which does not specify from which part of the estate the property is taken, including provisions for the death of the named beneficiaries
  • Name of a trust beneficiary, if applicable
  • Names of guardians and alternates for minor children, if necessary
  • Names of the executor and substitute executor
  • Your signature, certified by two witnesses who do not have a connection to the will

Drafting a Will

Ideally, your will should be drawn up by a lawyer and your heirs, if possible, should be familiar with its general form and contents. Many legal professionals recommend separate wills for husbands and wives since it is difficult to establish who owns which property in a joint will. If you have young children, an important provision is the selection of a guardian who would raise your children in the event of your death and the death of your spouse.

Choosing an Executor

When you create a will, you must also choose an executor who ensures that the settlement of your estate is properly administered upon your death. This can either be a trusted friend or an institution, such as a bank or a law firm, with the necessary expertise.

Don’t Leave Things to Chance

Much is made in life of the things we can’t live without. Little is made of the things you can’t die without. While it’s unpleasant to contemplate the thought of your own demise, it’s very satisfying to know that you’ve put your financial house in order.

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This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.

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