Published July 13, 2012
No one likes to think about death, but a little planning and you can ensure how your assets will be allocated after your gone.
Here are five expert tips for how to create a will and what should be included.
Make a plan. Without a will, you have no input as to how your assets will be distributed after your death. Instead, laws that vary by each state will determine how things are divided, which may mean that your belongings end up in unexpected places.
"You have worked hard for the things you own, you should have a say in how they're distributed," says Theresa Harezlak, a financial planner at Savant Capital Management.
While many people think about drafting wills when they start a family, New York attorney Mira Weiss also says you should create a will if you have children from a previous marriage, live with a partner in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, contemplating divorce, or if you own a business.
List your assets. Sit down and make a list of your assets and decide who should receive them. The list should include life insurance and retirement accounts as well as the names and addresses of the people who are to receive them, advises Tanya Bower, director of the estate planning practice at Florida law firm Tripp Scott.
Listing these items is important regardless of their value, experts say.
"Even people with very modest assets should consider wills to be sure the right people handle their estates, whatever the size," says Marilyn McWilliams, an expert in estate planning and partner at Denver law firm Moye White.
If you have children, it is important to decide who will step in as their guardian and what should happen to the child's property.
"For this reason alone, every parent should have a will," says David Choi, a New York-based lawyer who specializes in trusts and estates at the law firm of Kurzman, Eisenberg, Corbin and Lever.
Name an executor. Decide whom you wish to appoint as the executor of your estate. This person will be responsible for making sure that the decisions outlined in your will are respected and oversee the transfer of your property.
If you are married, you may name a spouse as executor, but should also choose an alternate, says Ori Pagovich, Managing Partner at Gotham Financial Services.
Consult an expert. Planning your will can be a complicated and stressful process. Experts say it's a good idea to find someone who has significant experience to guide you through.
"Although do-it-yourself wills seem like an easy alternative, this area of the law is very complicated and anyone with significant assets should look for an attorney who specializes in trusts and estates," says Mary O'Reilly, a partner at the Meltzer Lippe law firm.
When choosing an expert, Choi advises that it is important to find someone who will respect your wishes.
Leave a note. Aside from an official will, Harezlak recommends writing a letter of personal instruction. This may include wishes for funeral arrangements, the locations of important documents and account numbers and a list of items not covered in the will and what you would like done with them.