A will is a legal document written by a living person who states how they wish to distribute their assets after death. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people die without writing a will. It’s either because they don’t think they have anything worth leaving behind or simply because they don’t wish to discuss the inevitable. Others may put it off for later, adding it to their “to-do list,” and never get around to writing it until it’s too late. People are more than happy to buy lottery tickets with a one-in-a-million chance of winning but won’t write their will when the odds of dying are 100 percent!
Benjamin Franklin once said there are only two things certain in life— death and taxes. In the context of wills, these both have a close link. Most individuals spend all their lives building up wealth. But then, to let the law arbitrarily decide where that wealth ends after death seems unfair and a waste of effort. Therefore, writing a will is crucial, and you must do it right. Although laws vary among states and districts, the basic principles remain the same. Follow these six tips when writing your will to avoid making mistakes that may result in delays or disputes.
Name an executor:
When writing your death will, the first thing you must do is assign a person the responsibility of executing all the instructions you’ve written. It’s one of the most crucial tasks you can’t afford to mess up.
Carrying out the terms of your will can be a short-term or a long-term job. Therefore, whoever you assign as an executor must be prepared to carry their duty in both cases. They must be capable of making decisions based on advice offered by lawyers, accountants, and other legal professionals. You can choose anyone to be an executor. But whether it’s your spouse or a professional from a trusted company, they must immediately take responsibility for your affairs upon your demise.
Organize and inventory assets:
Assets include whatever possessions belong to you or are under your name. You must first list and organize all your properties, valuables, shares, and other holdings in your will. Distributing and sharing personal assets like jewelry and heirloom can also be included. However, sometimes you can’t add assets such as investment accounts to your will, depending on your state.
Additionally, don’t just write the name of each asset, but take the time to describe every single item clearly. Clear descriptions ensure no question is raised about an asset’s identity when the executor transfers it to its named beneficiary. It may be helpful to divide your possessions into the following categories:
- Moveable properties like cash and stocks
- Immoveable properties such as house and land
- Jewelry and family heirlooms
Avoid being ambiguous:
One of the errors people make when writing a will is writing sparse and vague statements highlighting assets distribution. Such wills can easily be contested in a court of law and exploited by family members who seek to fit their benefits. Ambiguity may cause delays and even prevent beneficiaries from receiving the assets you named for them.
Be sure you mention all your bank accounts, locker numbers, and property details. In the case of more than one property, distinguish them clearly by writing down purchase dates, addresses, and taxes. Refer your heirs with their full names and your relationship with them. Also, mention the assets you want to pass on to each individual. Strictly avoid using nicknames and other details that officials cannot verify.
Name a guardian:
Life continues to throw unexpected curve balls at every turn, and you never know how long you or your spouse will live. While you’re busy admiring your child’s latest triumph, ask yourself if you’ve spent enough time thinking about who’d raise them when you’re no longer around. The opportunities you provide your child contribute to any big or little accomplishment they achieve. Your financial situation, support, and belief system are crucial in helping your children get to where they are today. But what happens when all of this is no longer available to your child? When you die, what will be the conditions of your child’s upbringing?
In the case of minor children, guardianship provisions are essential to prepare for such situations and ensure the child continues living a comfortable life. After careful deliberation, you must spell out your chosen guardian or guardians in your will. You can even include provisions for future children, so none of your dependents will be left out even if you die before your will gets updated.
Write a residuary clause:
A residuary clause in a will sorts out who inherits the deceased’s assets besides those bequeathed explicitly to named beneficiaries. It’s arguably one of the most critical clauses in the will, yet often left out by most individuals. You can assign the remainder of your assets to a beneficiary of your choosing or leave it to the executor to handle as he sees fit. When writing your will, it’s unlikely you’ll remember everything you own, and therefore it’s vital not to overlook this clause. With an effective residuary clause in place, family members who aren’t of the deceased’s choosing will have no claim over the assets.
Sign your will with witnesses:
You must sign your will before witnesses to make it legally valid. Different states have varying requirements regarding identity and number of witnesses, so be sure to check beforehand when signing the will.
Once you’ve written your will, you must not forget about it. Set aside a regular time, perhaps every other year, to review and update any significant changes in your life. With time, investments you considered insignificant before may become valuable in the future. Similarly, your decision regarding beneficiaries, executor, or guardian may also change. Therefore, revisit your document regularly and keep it in a safe place that you can share with your executor.