If you die without a last will, you will die intestate, which means that state law will determine where your things go—and the results may not be what you would have liked.
Here are six factors you should consider when creating a will. The more you think about them in advance, the easier the process will be.
Who Will Be Your Executor?
The executor, or personal representative, is the person who will be in charge of handling your estate. This should be someone you trust implicitly and who is responsible and organized; administering an estate involves a lot of paperwork.
You should talk to this person ahead of time to be sure they are willing to accept this role. Let them know where to find important documents, such as your will, insurance policies, and passwords for online financial accounts.
What Property Do You Own?
Wills cover both real and personal property of the testator (the person writing the will), so you will want to have a comprehensive list to work from as you decide who will get what.
Real property includes houses, land, and other immovable objects, while personal property includes bank accounts, stocks, jewelry, family heirlooms, etc.
Remember you can only bequeath what you own, so, if something is owned jointly, you can only give your share to someone else upon your death.
Who Will Be Your Beneficiaries?
Your beneficiaries are the people who will be inheriting your real and personal property according to your will. Usually these are the people closest to you, but you should also think about what might happen if, for example, you and your spouse die at the same time.
The more clearly you express your wishes in your will—even taking into consideration unexpected or unlikely events—the better.
Choose a Legal Guardian for Minor Children
Usually, when one parent dies, the other parent gets custody of the minor children, but there are circumstances in which this is not the case. Moreover, both parents could die at the same time.
Think about who you would want to raise your children should something happen to you, so that you can name a legal guardian for any minor children in your will. List a second choice as well, should your top choice be unable to assume the responsibility. Also, be sure to talk to your chosen guardian(s) to be sure they will agree to step in and take care of your children.
What Will Happen to Your Pets?
For many people, pets are members of the family but, under the law, they are personal property. In your will, you can include a provision detailing who should take responsibility for your pets, as well as any special care instructions. Again, you should speak with this person ahead of time to make sure they are willing to take in your furry and feathered family members.
Protect Your Digital Legacy
Now that so many people have online lives, it is important to consider what you would like to have happen to your social media and other accounts and/or websites once you're gone.
Some sites, such as Facebook, have built-in provisions for handling your page after you're gone and you can select your preferences now, but you should also make your wishes known in your will, so your executor or other loved ones can take care of your digital legacy as you would have liked.
How to Make a Will
Making a will is a great first step in creating your estate plan and it can also be the easiest, especially as you can find services to create wills online to help guide you through the process. Once you have thought about the issues listed above, you can make a will in no time just by filling in online will forms.
Remember, though, that in order to have an enforceable will, it must be executed according to the laws of your state, which often specify it must be signed in front of witnesses. You should also be an adult of sound mind and under no duress when creating the will.
Again, state requirements do vary regarding the legal requirements for a last will, so be sure that you're following your own state's law.
Once you have a will, you still need to make sure it continues to reflect your current wishes. This is why it's imperative you update your will periodically, making sure to consider marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and other life events. Revisiting your will's terms once a year is a good plan.
If you still aren't convinced, consider this: You'll be doing your loved ones a favor by sparing them more stress during an already difficult time.