US News & World Report’s article entitled “10 Steps to Writing a Will” says that if you've been procrastinating on completing the task, here's your opportunity to cross it off your list. You can get going with these simple steps.
- Do-it-yourself? You can use online software to help you write your will. However, there are many horror stories of people who wrote their own wills with financially devastating consequences. Consider the late Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. Wouldn’t you think he, of all people, could write a will? Nope, His will was just 450 words and had a ton of errors. His family spent a fortune in legal fees and more than $450,000 in taxes to collect their assets. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she will know how to help you efficiently and effectively. Also, what if you need more than a will to avoid probate in the state you live in. In California, if your estate exceeds $150,000 it is subject to probate. Probate could be avoided if your assets are in a trust.
- Beneficiaries. When you pass away, your beneficiaries will receive your assets. Be sure that this list is up-to-date. Also, how do you want your beneficiaries to receive your assets? Outright, in trust, at stages? Do you have any beneficiaries with addiction or special needs?
- Executor. This individual will make sure the wishes in your will are carried out with the oversight of the court. Select a person who’s responsible.
- Guardian. If you have minor children, you need to designate a friend or family member as a guardian.
- Be specific. Don’t be vague in your will and think everyone will know what you want. If you leave your will open to interpretation, it could be challenged.
- Be realistic. Even if you want to distribute your assets fairly, it still isn't easy. It’s best to talk to your heirs about your assets. Tell them that if they have their eye on anything other than house and cars, to let you know so you can write that down and make sure they get it when you die. This gives them some input.
- Attach a letter to the will. It’s okay to attach a personal letter to the will, as a way to say goodbye and make your wishes clear and personal. If you choose to do this, make sure it does not conflict with your will.
- Witnesses. Be sure your have the witnesses sign your will. In California, two witnesses must watch you sign your will and put specific information with their signature. Failure to execute the will with witnesses could invalidate your will. Witnesses also need to be at least 18 years old, and ideally, they'll be people who are likely to be around after you’re gone. That’s because if something’s amiss, and your will is contested in court, the judge may want to call a witness to testify.
- Keep your will safe. Be sure that someone you trust knows the location of your will, as well as any other important papers and passwords to financial institutions. Keep the original copy somewhere secure.
- Review and update your will. After drawing up your will and trust, you'll want to update it, especially after any major life event, like a marriage, divorce or a birth.
Reference: US News & World Report (June 19, 2018) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”
One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about your estate plan, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security. Our office is located in Santa Ana, CA but we serve all of California including Irvine, Orange, Tustin, Newport Beach, and Anaheim.