Wills and Basic Estate Planning
The death of a loved one is one of the most challenging of life’s events. Legal disputes over necessary housing, vehicles or child custody can turn it into an absolute nightmare for the survivors. Fortunately, this is preventable if we will take the time to prepare the necessary legal documents now. There are many ways to approach this. You can hire a lawyer or estate planner, use an online will service ( www.rocketlawyer.com/ , www.nolo.com/ and www.legalzoom.com/ are currently the top three sites), or you can write it yourself. Should you choose to do it yourself, the following guide from www.free-legal-document.com/ will step you through the process.
HOW TO WRITE A WILL: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
1. Document Title: Typically the headline would be: LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
2. Declaration: You will state your full name and residential address, with a declaration that: You are of legal age to make a will and are of sound mind and memory; This is your last will and testament, revoking all previously made wills and codicils; You are not under duress or undue influence to make this will. Note: In giving your personal details, be as complete as possible – add any identification numbers, maiden names etc.
3. Name an Executor: People typically name the remaining spouse or main beneficiary of the estate as executor. This makes sense, since they have knowledge of the assets and an interest to see to a speedy wrap-up of the estate and the probate process. A competent friend may also be nominated, but you should discuss their willingness to do this duty with them first. You should also name an alternate executor should your first choice not be available or willing at the time. If you do not specifically name an executor in your will, the courts will appoint one and executor’s fees may be payable.
4. Name a Guardian for your Minor Children: If your children are of the age that they require guardianship and there is no remaining natural parent to care for them, you should name a legal guardian in your will or the court will appoint one. This is probably the most important clause for parents in writing a will. Have a serious discussion with your choice of guardian to confirm that he/she is prepared to take on this duty, before naming him/her in your will. If your choice is a stable married couple, state both their names.
5. Details of Beneficiaries: Name your spouse, children and other beneficiaries specifically, without leaving any doubt as to their identity. Name alternate beneficiaries in case of simultaneous death.
6. Details of your Assets: An important part of how to write a will, is to distinguish between estate assets that are already assigned to beneficiaries and those that are not. Assets that are not part of a will, may be any policies where you have already specified a beneficiary, joint ownership or joint tenancy of property, payable-on-death bank accounts, trusts etc. (If a policy does not have a beneficiary named, it becomes part of the estate and can attract executor’s fees.) If you have assets in a different country, you should make a separate will specifically for that country and exclude those assets from the will made in your home country.
7. How to Write a Will to cover specific Bequests: Under the heading “BEQUESTS” you could name persons or organizations whom you wish to inherit specific property or cash sums. In the clause thereafter, you will state the following: “Apart from the items listed in # above, I bequeath the remainder of my assets to…”
8. Funeral Arrangements: You can express your wishes on whether to be cremated, buried or have your remains disposed of in any other way, as long as your wishes do not contravene any laws in your state or country.
9. Your Signature: You have to sign your will in the joint presence of witnesses, since they will be witnessing that you are indeed the signatory of the will and under no duress to do so. The actual date and place of the signing must be recorded and it is recommended that you sign every page of the will.
10. Signatures of Witnesses: A minimum of two witnesses in most states and countries (3 in Vermont) are required to witness the signing of your will. Their full names, addresses and signatures should be on the document. The witnesses have to sign in the presence pf the person making the will. You must add a declaration that they witnessed your signature, that they are legal adults and of sound mind and that they consider you of sound mind, adult age and under no duress or undue influence to sign your will. The date and place of their signing (same as yours) must be recorded. Important Note: The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of your will in any way whatsoever.
11. Numbered Paragraphs: This is important in a will or any legal document. Number the paragraphs in order to confirm that the document is complete with no missing pages or additional pages inserted.
12. Have your Will Notarized: A final optional part– compulsory in Louisiana, and always advisable–is to have your will notarized. The signing process will be done in the presence of a notary public and the identity of the testator must be proven (photo identification must be provided). If so duly notarized, the will becomes Self Proving during probate.
“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” D&C 64:33