Steps to Prepareerror

A will that is to be successfully probated and made to meet your needs and wishes, must first be thought out carefully by you. Although you can prepare your own will, an attorney can help fulfill your intentions and guide you in making the best decisions. Be sure to discuss fees with the attorney so there is no misunderstanding at a later time.

Remember, your will can be changed at any time you wish, as your assets, intentions or desired beneficiaries may change. Your will is not made public while you are alive, since the will is not presented for probate nor recorded before your death. The existence of a will does not affect your right to dispose of your property during your lifetime.

Firstly, start by making a list of all your assets. It is important to list how each asset is owned – individually, jointly, in trust, etc. – since this will determine whether or not the disposition of the property will be governed by the will, or by operation of law. Joint property with right of survivorship, real property and motor vehicles in the name of husband and wife pass automatically to the survivor.

Secondly, examine the beneficiary designations in all life insurance policies, IRA, pension plans and similar documents. They will not become part of your estate and therefore, be sure you have not included their value to cover any expenses.

Thirdly, select an executor to administer the will. It is the executor’s duty to collect all the assets of the estate, determine what claims are being made against the estate, file the necessary tax returns and distribute the assets among the beneficiaries under the will. The executor may be a beneficiary under the will, a member of your family, your legal or financial advisor, a friend, a bank, trust department or business associate. It is also advisable to name a contingent executor to act in case your first selection dies before you, or, for any reason, is unable to serve as executor.

If the will is complex, you may need to appoint a trustee and/or guardian for some of the beneficiaries. A financial institution may be the right trustee to appoint in this situation to handle the many complex tax, accounting, investment and property management decisions.

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