By Robert E. Fravel, Esq.
Having a properly drafted will is absolutely necessary. As I have said time and time before, if you own any property, you should have a will. If you own a business or have minor children, you NEED a will. A will allows you to determine what happens to your property after you die. This is a right that every citizen has, yet for some reason a large number of us fail to exercise it. So what is the process for setting up a will?
The first thing to determine is what property you own and who you want to inherit that property. You can be as specific or general as you want when determining this. You can expressly lay out certain individual pieces of property that you own and who you want to inherit them, i.e. “I give my guitar to my friend Steve Smith and I give my coin collection to my daughter Nancy Jones.” You can also simply divide your estate into shares and give shares to whom you wish. Keep in mind, that if you own all or part of a business, then your business ownership interest(s) should be addressed in your will, unless you have already implemented a business succession plan via separate documents.
Next you will need to pick the person you want to serve as the Executor of your estate. This is the person legally responsible for winding up your affairs and making sure all the filings with the court and applicable taxing authorities are done on time and correctly. This person will also distribute the estate assets to beneficiaries and pay the outstanding debts of the estate. Ideally this person should be trustworthy and organized. It is not uncommon for an Executor to also be a beneficiary of the estate. I always advise clients to name an alternate Executor, just to be on the safe side.
If you have minor children (under the age of 18), you can use your will to determine who will raise them and handle their finances in the event that you pass away before they reach the age of 18. If you do not address this in your will, then you run the risk of letting a court determine who will raise your children.
Once you have addressed the previously mentioned concerns, the next step is to properly execute the will. A will that is not properly executed can render the document meaningless or potentially leave your estate vulnerable to will challenges from a disgruntled family member. The laws of each state vary for the requirements of will execution, so speak with an attorney in your state regarding this point. After your will has been properly executed, put it somewhere safe, and let your executor(s) know where it is located.
If you need to have a will drafted or amended, sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process, and draft around any issues your or your estate may encounter down the road.