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What Information Should Be in a Will?

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What Information Should Be in a Will?
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Most people spend each phase of their lives preparing for the next one, whether it's starting a family, buying their first home, or eventually retiring.

While it’s clearly more fun to plan for a baby shower than to contemplate your own mortality, making arrangements for the eventualities of life as we age—including incapacity and, yes, our own passing—does bring peace of mind. It’s necessary for everyone 18 and older, says a recent article from BestLife, “The 10 Most Important Things to Include in Your Will, Experts Say.”

The reason is simple: if you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself regarding healthcare decisions or your financial life, you need someone to do so for you. This is as much a part of your estate plan as asset distribution.

Planning for incapacity includes having a Power of Attorney (POA) and possibly a lifetime or revocable trust. The POA assigns someone else to manage everyday financial matters. The Healthcare POA is used to designate someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t do so. You’ll need to discuss these roles with the person or people being named to ensure that they are comfortable with the responsibilities. Be sure that your Healthcare POA knows your wishes regarding medical directives and will carry them out, even if they feel differently about your wishes.

Your Last Will and Testament is part of a group of documents, including the POAs mentioned above. A will is used to name an executor who administers your estate. The executor has a large task, including gathering information for all assets, filing final taxes and estate taxes, paying off debts, notifying family members and distributing assets. Your executor should be someone you trust and who has the financial acumen to take on all these tasks, as well as managing heirs who don’t always appreciate the executor’s responsibilities.

You’ll need backups for all the people in all roles. Let’s say you chose a respected friend of many years to be your executor. If they become ill or die themselves, who will oversee your estate? You need a second, or even a third, backup executor to be named in your will. The same goes for trusts. A successor trustee is necessary to be sure that your trust and its assets are in good hands.

Minor children or dependents are protected through a will that is used to name a guardian (and a backup guardian) for minor children. If no one is named, the court will decide who will raise your child(ren). Similar issues need to be addressed, such as when you would want your children to receive an inheritance—all at once or when they reach legal age. Could it be specific percentages based on age? Picking the right person and creating a plan will ensure that the children have a good life, even in your absence.

Keeping wills up to date is critical to ensuring that your wishes are followed at every stage of life.  Everyone involved should know where the original copy of the will is located. Some estate planning attorneys will safeguard your will, while others recommend keeping it at home in a fire and water-proof safe. Whichever route you take, tell your executor and family members where it can be found.

Discuss the use of trusts with your estate planning attorney. Using trusts can minimize the amount of your estate needing to go through probate, which can be time-consuming and costly.

Don’t neglect your furry or feathered friends. If your lifestyle includes companion animals who are dear to you, consider who would take care of them if you became incapacitated or died. You can use a pet trust to provide assets for their care and name a caretaker, so they don’t end up in a shelter.

Avoid family battles by including your wishes for personal possessions with special meaning in your will. Family heirlooms, artwork and jewelry are among the items families fight over. Spare your family this stress by naming them in your will or gifting them while you are still living.

Digital assets have become a part of our modern lives. Suppose you leave a list of accounts, usernames, passwords and specific directions for your wishes. In that case, your executor will need to be able to manage your digital assets, including financial accounts, photos, subscriptions, airline miles, email and social media accounts.

If you wish to leave assets to a charity, you can do so in your will or make gifts before you die. Speak with your estate planning attorney about how to bequeath assets to a charity, which should be done in alignment with your overall estate plan.

Reference: BestLife (May 3, 2024) “The 10 Most Important Things to Include in Your Will, Experts Say”

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