“Most people should have a will, but it's rarely the most significant estate planning document that an individual will hold.”
Dying without a last will creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about last wills when they marry or have children, and then do not think about last wills or estate plans until they retire. While a last will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.
Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.
Here are ten specific tasks that need to be completed for your last will to be effective. Remember, if the will does not comply with your state’s estate law, it can be declared invalid.
- Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
- Select beneficiaries for your last will.
- Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
- Decide who will be the executor of your last will.
- Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.
- Make a letter describing possessions and who you want to receive them. Be very specific.
There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:
- Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
- Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
- Create an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will, to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
- Discuss these roles and their responsibilities with the people you have chosen, and make sure they are willing to serve.
Be realistic about the people you are naming to receive your property. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history.
Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your last will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.
Finally, do not neglect updating your last will every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old last wills can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.
Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”