For most people, estate planning begins with creating and executing a Last Will and Testament. While that sounds simple enough in the abstract, over half of all Americans do not have even a basic Will in place. One of the most common reasons people give for not having a Will is that they are unsure of where or how to begin. The best way to ensure that your Will accurately reflects your wishes and can withstand any challenges that might be raised during the probate process, is to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney. To get you started, the Carmel area estate planning attorneys at Frank & Kraft offer some common steps to take when creating your Will.
What Is a Last Will and Testament?
Before you start thinking about creating your Will, it helps to understand some Will basics. A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that allows the Testator (the person executing the document) to make gifts of estate assets that will be fulfilled at the time of the Testator’s death. You can distribute all, or just some, of your estate using a Will. A Will is considered public record once it is submitted to probate after your death. Therefore, anyone may view the provisions of your Will. Probate is the legal process that follows your death and is used to ensure that your estate assets are identified, located, and eventually transferred to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of your estate. There is more than one type of Will. Most people will execute a simple Will the first time they create a Will; however, if you decide to use a trust to distribute the bulk of your estate, instead of a Will, you may execute a “Pour Over Will” instead of a simple Will. Your estate planning attorney can explain more about the various types of Wills and will help you pick the right type for you and your needs.
Creating Your Will
- Make a list of assets and liabilities. You probably have a rough idea what your net worth is; however, when it comes to creating a Will you need to know exactly what you own and what you owe. Making detailed lists, and keeping them with your Will, also makes the probate of your estate much easier when the time comes.
- Decide who your beneficiaries will be. This one may be obvious and not require much thought; however, there are some beneficiaries that people commonly do not think about one their own. Charities, for example, such as your church, may be included. Your family pet is another one that you may not have considered.
- Think about who to name as Executor. Do not make the common mistake of filling in the name of your spouse as the Executor of your estate without considering if he/she is the best choice. The Executor of your Will fulfills an important role in the probate of your estate that includes numerous, and varied, duties and responsibilities. Ideally, your Executor will have a legal and/or financial background. Appointing the wrong person to be your Executor can cause a delay in the probate of your estate and/or increased costs related to the probate process.
- Decide who to nominate a Guardian. One mistake first-time Testator’s frequently make is failing to nominate a Guardian for minor children in their Will. This common omission usually occurs because people do not know that naming a Guardian in an option. In fact, your Will is the only opportunity you have to let a judge know who you would want to take over the care of your minor child(ren) if a Guardian is ever needed. Even if you have yet to have a child, it is still a good idea to include a Guardian in your Will if there is a possibility you will become a parent in the future.
- Consult with an estate planning attorney. Resist the temptation to use a DIY Will form you found on the internet. The time and money you think you will save will be meaningless to your loved ones when they are forced to spend time and money litigating your Will because of the mistakes and/or omissions in the DIY form you used.
Contact Carmel Area Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about creating a Will, or if you are ready to get started on yours, contact the experienced Carmel area estate planning attorneys at Frank & Kraft by calling (317) 684-1100 to schedule an appointment.