10 Things to Consider Including in a Will

April 6 - Now
Image by iowa_spirit_walker used under the creative commons attribution license.

Wills are generally the centerpiece of an estate plan , allowing people to direct how their property should be divided and who should get it after they die.

Anyone can create a will with an inexpensive software package or, if there are significant assets or a complicated plan for dividing your property, you can pay an attorney several thousand dollars to draft one a will. In either case, it's money well spent.

Discourage your parents from trying to save money by having a joint will, in which each one leaves all money and property to the other. Each parent should have a separate will -- and consider covering the key points discussed below.

Top Three Items to Consider in a Will

1. Name a personal representative or executor.

In an individual will, your parent can name a person or institution to act as personal representative, called an executor in some states, who will be responsible for making sure that the will is carried out as written and that the property is divvied up and distributed as directed. It's also wise to name an alternate in case the first choice is unable or unwilling to act.

2. Name beneficiaries to get specific property.

Your parent's will can specify separate gifts of property -- called specific bequests -- including cash, personal property, or real estate. Likely beneficiaries for such bequests are children and other relatives, but they may also include friends, business associates, charities, or other organizations.

3. Specify alternate beneficiaries.

In fashioning their wills, most people assume that the beneficiaries they name will survive to take the property they've specified for them. The most thoughtful wills provide for what should happen if those beneficiaries don't survive -- either by naming a backup recipient or indicating that the person's spouse or children should take the property instead.

The Next Three Items To Consider in a Will

Name someone to take all remaining property.

If your parent has opted to make specific bequests of property, a will is also the place to name people or organizations to take whatever property is left over. This property is usu ally called a "residuary estate."

Give directions on dividing personal assets.

If your parent wants assets divided among children, charities, or other beneficiaries, the will should note precisely what property is included in that pool. It should also specify whether assets are to go directly to beneficiaries or whether they're to be sold and the value divided among the beneficiaries, either equally or according to stated percentages.

Give directions for allocating business assets.

Business assets are often separate from personal assets -- and most business owners have very specific ideas about what should be done with them after their deaths. If your parents don't have a written plan covering the windup of their business, encourage them to see an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that their wishes are clearly indicated in each of their wills.

The Final Four Items To Consider in a Will

Specify how debts, expenses, and taxes should be paid.

The will should spell out your parent's wishes regarding how to settle debts and final expenses, such as funeral and probate costs, as well as any estate and inheritance taxes. Usually a specific source, such as a bank account, will be tagged to cover these costs.

Cancel debts others owe.

A nice added touch is that people making wills can use the documents to relieve those who owed them money from the responsibility of paying that debt -- along with any interest that accumulated on it -- to them or their survivors.

Indicate special instructions for maintaining real estate.

If your parents name someone to keep their house, they should list any specific instructions for its care and upkeep in each will.

Provide a caretaker for pets.

Since the law considers pets to be property, the best way for your parents to assure a good home for theirs is to leave the animal to someone named in each will who has agreed to give it a good home. Many people also leave that person an amount of money to help cover the caretaking expenses.

over 2 years ago, said...

Hate to omit this, but starting to look into this all.

almost 3 years ago, said...

This has been something I start and just can't continue. I guess it affects our whole way of life thinking about it. I called about an elder care attorney and they are expensive. Live in Spring and if you have any suggestions I would appreciate it. Think this is the way to start since I haven't. Thanks for replying if you can.

over 3 years ago, said...

Is it true, that if someone is on permanent disability they can be gifted real estate,..example; a house, and the state NY, can't take if parent goes into a nursing home? A social worker said this to us, and I was wondering if this is true... Thanks.

almost 4 years ago, said...

Article GROSSLY misstates the cost of having a will PROFESSIONALLY prepared by an attorney. In most cases, the fee is around $300, TOTAL for BOTH spouses...and that also includes a Power of Attorney and Living Will.

almost 5 years ago, said...

you can also hire Paralegals to do your will documents for way cheaper and you can make sure that it is done right.

over 5 years ago, said...

It helped me break down the priorities of making a will and how importannt it is top have one

over 5 years ago, said...

The specific details/sections to be considering in drafting the will.

over 5 years ago, said...

When a relative died, I was the sole beneficiary and personal representative. He left everything to me, but since I was a sister and not a spouse, I had to go through the lengthy and aggravating probate court process, and I couldn't see a dime of the money he left me until all outstanding debts were paid. The six month period allowed any debtors to come forward during this time because once the six month period ended, the estate was closed. I paid all of his medical expenses and monies owed during the six months. But by the time the probate court and attorneys got their share, there was only half the money left. It's my understanding that all wills must go through probate. I'm not certain whether or not these laws vary according to locale. However, it probably is a better idea to enact a living trust instead of a will.

over 5 years ago, said...

As a retired Trust Officer, who handled the affairs of many estates and trusts over a long period of time, I heartily agree with the comments posted by "anonymous". In my opinion, everyone who has any assets must have a will and preferably also have a revocable living trust which has title to his/her assets. This makes it very much less complicated when a death occurs, plus it drastically reduces the cost of administering the estate, as all the assets in the trust pas free of "probate". In my case, I have all my assets in my revocable trust, including my checking account, all real estate and stocks, bonds, etc. The trust is easily modified (changed) by me during my lifetime, so it's very flexible. I am the trustee and on my death, one of my daughters and one of my sons take my place and see to it that my wishes are carried out. One could also appoint a bank or trust company to be successor trustee. One last comment, and that regards forgiveness of debt when you pass on. I handled several estates that resulted in family ties being strained due to outstanding debt on the part of one of the heirs. It is my opinion that debts not be forgiven, but that the debtors share of his/her inheritance be reduced by the amount owing, thus treating all heirs equally. My caution here is that adequate, up to date information be maintained regarding loans to potential heirs, and that information is physically located with the will and trust agreement. Likewise with tax returns and other pertinent information.

over 5 years ago, said...

ABSOLUTELY my husband and I just revised and update our living will, including assets, who is in charge, and those children that have outstanding debt with us. Those with outstnaind debt the amount they will receive will first be deducted from their inheritence and the loan paid off in full before they receive the rest of the money that is left.

over 5 years ago, said...

If you want to give everything to a society that takes care of animals and not uthenize them, what is the procedure, taking into consideration there are alot of thieves out there??

over 5 years ago, said...

I feel this article is a great disservice to your readers. Wills are very inexpensive documents to have professionally drafted by an attorney. Many things can go wrong in the drafting of a will and depending on the state the person resides there are formalities that must be followed. As they are inexpensive, it makes little sense for someone to spend money on a template etc. that may not even be effective. For example, our firm would charge a mere $100.00 for a single simple will or $160.00 total for a married couple's simple wills. The cost savings of having a will prepared by an attorney will almost always be worth the loss and/or frustration of having used a software or not having one. Additionally, your advice ignores Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. Your advice is woefully inadequate.

almost 6 years ago, said...

If you have all your bank accounts "payable on death" to a loved one, that property DOES NOT pass through a will: therefore, if that's the only way you've left money to a loved one, you wouldn't need a will, necessarily. Same goes for life insurance: your beneficiaries are paid through the proceeds of the life insurance policy and again, that is property that is NOT passed through a will. I don't know about comment from the person who claims that California law takes 25% of your estate if you die without a will, but I'd check with a will and estate attorney in that state. However, there are other reasons to have a will: you might want to leave money to charity. You might want to leave money to a loved one ONLY if that person met certain requirements: for example, they graduated from college, or didn't get convicted of a felony. But the most imporant reason to have a will is if there is more than one child who might inherit, or if there are step-children. Having a will in that case, could save the survivors a lot of heartache. And if you have small children, you would need a will to designate who will take care of your children, should you and your husband both die together.

almost 6 years ago, said...

I would like information of the will & how it ties in with the revocable living trust. Would like to change my will.

almost 6 years ago, said...

What are the last 6 things?

almost 6 years ago, said...

I'm up in age and have seen families torn apart and lawyers getting big fees just because someone didn't have a will or a proper one. People say "my kids get along fine". Wait, the fun begins when the will is read or if there is not a will. I have seen it in several families.

almost 6 years ago, said...

I have heard people say "my kids get along great" . But as I am up in years and have seen a lot - wait until the will is read or if there isn't one. Then the fun begins. I have seen several families torn apart and lawyers getting big fees just because someone didn't have a will.

almost 6 years ago, said...

It reminded me that I must take the time to prepare my will. Even though there is not much to leave, my husband has 3 daughters and I have one and this document will simplify things between them when the time comes. Thank you for the information.

almost 6 years ago, said...

I must have missed something - do not understand comment by GFrankG ???

almost 6 years ago, said...

Thanks for the opportunity to ask a question regarding need of a will. I am 67 years old still working and in good health. My wife and I have been married for nearly 43 years and she is also still working. We only have the one daughter who is 42 years old. My question is do we need a will when we only have the one daughter? All of our bank accounts, savings and CD's have her listed as (P.O.D.) payable on the death of my wife and I. Our home, vehicles and personal belongings are all paid for. Our daughter is aware of our wishes and our assets. Everything we own will be hers when my wife and I die. I have never felt that we need a will when there is no question about who will receive our estate. Do we really need a will?

almost 6 years ago, said...

Don't ever try to write your own will. Leave it to the experts, attorneys. My friend use computer software to write one and now everything is all screwed up for her family. Senior can have one for free. Contact you Senior agencies to find the Senior Law program that does this.