[originally posted September 23, 2013]
Admitting your mortality and preparing your estate for your loved ones is a daunting task. But a valid will can help your loved ones avoid hassles and ensure your possessions end up in the right hands.
It is never too early to plan for your family’s future, and these eight questions to ask when writing your will may help steer you in the right direction.
1. What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without a valid will your estate – who will inherit what – will be handled according to the laws of the state. This can result in situations where your estate is not handled according to your or your family’s wishes.
2. Do I need an attorney?
No, you do not need an attorney to write your will or plan your estate. However, in the event your will is contested, a strongly written, valid will is your best defense. An invalid will places control of your possessions in the hands of the state. An attorney with experience in estate planning will have advice that can help protect your wishes as you plan your estate, and many offer free consultations where you can get any legal questions answered. The additional resources at the end of this article can help if you decide to write your will yourself.
If you’re in the Bentonville area and aren’t sure who to speak with or have questions you would like answered, give us a call at theRoberds Law Firm.
3. Does a will account for guardianship of my minor children or dependents?
Yes, a will can declare who you wish to serve as guardian(s) for your young children or dependents.
4. How should I handle my property and possessions?
A will allows you to leave specific items or sets of items to specified individuals, or you may leave everything to a person you trust who may then distribute the items. It should be noted that certain types of property may not covered in your will, including insurance policies and retirement accounts. Odds are you set up the inheritance details when you signed up, and you should call your provider with questions.
5. Do I need a witness?
Yes, you will need a witness when signing your will. It is recommended you do not use a beneficiary for your witness as this could result in a conflict of interest. Nolo provides an informative, short read with additional information on witnesses and completing your will.
6. What is an executor?
The executor of your will is the individual or individuals who see to it your wishes are adhered to. It is important you choose your executor carefully, depending on your situation. A lawyer or individual with financial expertise may make the most sense if your affairs are complicated. Others prefer to have a spouse or family member serve as executor, while a third option allows for joint executors, which may include a spouse and a lawyer, for example.
It is important you clarify in your will that your executor may pay bills, deal with debt collectors, and has general freedom to handle affairs related to your estate. Additionally, and this is important, make sure your executor knows where you keep your will. A lost, unfiled will won’t do anyone any good.
7. Where should I keep my will?
While signed copies of your will should stay with your attorney, you will likely hold on to the original. Keeping your will secure is important, but if you are the only one with access to it (safety deposit box) your family may have to seek a court order in the event of your passing, an added hassle at an already difficult time. Many individuals keep their wills in a waterproof, fireproof safe, protecting the document and allowing easy access for their family should the worst happen.
Again, make sure copies are filed – often with an attorney if one was involved in the estate planning – and inform your executor as to the location of the original.
8. Can people contest my will?
Yes, it is possible for your will to be contested for any number of reasons. Your best defense is a well-constructed, valid will as matters of contestation are often decided by a probate judge. An experienced attorney can help ensure all legal matters are accurate, reducing the possibility of successful contention.
It is possible to write your will yourself, without the aid of an attorney. If you choose to write your own will, please take a few extra minutes to visit the additional resources below. Articles provide information on writing your will, accounting for your social media/online presence through an online executor (in charge of closing email, Facebook, etc), and may offer answers to more specific questions.
You have worked hard to build the life you have, and early estate planning can protect your loved ones and your wishes.