Write a will to help preserve your assets and protect your wishes
Include personal property and other assets, not just money
Name a guardian to care for any minor children or dependents
Choose beneficiaries for life insurance policies and retirement accounts
When the topics of estate planning and writing a will come up, do you change the conversation? You’re not alone. Most people don’t like to think about their own deaths. In fact, only four out of ten U.S. adults have a will, according to a 2017 survey from Caring.com. However, it’s important to put your reluctance aside and write your will sooner rather than later. Without one, the state where you live will control who gets your hard-earned assets, and the outcome may not be what you intended.
You don’t want to leave your estate to chance, says David J. Dietrich, chair of the American Bar Association Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law. Just look at what’s happening with the estates of Prince and Aretha Franklin. Both died without a will. Now it’s up to the courts to determine the division of assets, which could take years and result in sizable attorney fees. Don’t leave your legacy to chance.
Goals and Purposes of Writing a Will
Whatever your age, profession, or income, a properly written will can help you accomplish a number of significant goals:
- Name an executor for your estateEnsure the smooth transition of assetsDesignate a guardian for your kidsAvoid family strife
As you consider writing your will, here is a list of Dos and Don’ts:
It designates who’s in charge—an executor, trustee, or other representative.
A will should be drafted with thorough, complete disclosure of financial products, and beneficiary designations. Check your TD Ameritrade account to ensure information is current.
Designate a guardian and/or trustee to care for kids under 18 or any adult dependents.
There are a variety of estate-planning services that can meet a variety of budgets. Non-profits can help, as can DIY online services. However, most experts agree it’s best to go with a professional.
If you have had more than one spouse, specify their role in the distribution of your assets.
Talk with your loved ones and then make your intentions clear and legally binding to avoid family disputes. Good communication can go a long way.
Specify how you want your house or other real estate where you’re the sole owner handled. Example: grant one of the kids an option to buy out the others at fair market value.
Because laws vary from state to state, consider working with an attorney or professional who knows your state’s requirements. If you move to another state, you may want to double-check your will’s validity.
Specify who gets non-cash items like pets, rare paintings, or a baseball card collection. These types of items are impossible to divide up and can trigger disputes.
Estate Planning Checklist
Follow this checklist to help make sure your estate plan wishes are known and necessary documents are in place.