What is a personal Will?
A Will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of your children after you die. A Will also allows you to direct assets to a charity, institution, or an organization of your choice if you wish.
How do personal Wills work?
- Before creating a Will, start by compiling a list of your assets and who you would like to leave them to. In some cases, you may want to split the inherited ownership for certain assets.
- Prepare a valid Will through a professional or on your own using an online software program. Once you have drafted the document, it must be witnessed by two adults you know you well and are not a beneficiary of your Will. Some places might also require your Will to be notarized, so check the laws where you live.
- Choose an executor who is responsible for collecting your assets, paying any debts of the estate, paying any applicable taxes, and distributing your assets in accordance with the directions of the Will. Your executor should be a still-living person who you trust, such as a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend or relative. It can also be an attorney if your estate is particularly complex. The probate court usually supervises the executor to ensure they adhere to your wishes specified in the Will.
- Store your original copy somewhere safe. A probate court usually requires access to your original will before it can process your estate, so it’s important to keep it somewhere safe and accessible. A good location would be a waterproof and fireproof safe, rather than somewhere such as a bank safety deposit box which might require a court order to gain access.
- Make changes to your Will as necessary. Every two or three years, review your Will to ensure you don’t need to make any updates. Important events such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child may require you to make some changes. To change your Will, you just need to write a new one to replace the old one or make an addition using an amendment, called a codicil.
What should you include in your Will?
You should outline in your Will how you would like your assets to be distributed when you pass away. Some important things to consider are:
- Funeral wishes
- Legal guardians for your children
- Your money and assets (e.g. any property that you own in your sole name, cars, savings, personal possessions, life insurance policies, pension schemes, stocks, shares and premium bonds, contents of safe deposit boxes, family heirlooms, etc.)
How do you execute a Will?
After the death, executors are expected to step into action immediately. Executors are responsible for settling funeral arrangements and executing the wishes outlined in the Will. To do so, they must follow the following steps:
- Review the last Will and testament.
- File the Will with your local probate court to determine the validity of the Will and officially grant you authority as the executor.
- Secure assets and manage finances and debts. You’ll also have to manage day-to-day affairs like cancelling credit cards, internet cable services, phone and utility bills, and subscriptions.
- Distribute remaining property, gifts, and assets according to the Will.
- File final income taxes for the deceased.
- Close the estate by organizing and filing all financial data, closing the estate bank account, and sending statements of estate activity to all beneficiaries. When completed, file a closing statement or Affidavit with the court to confirm the deceased wishes have been carried out.
Why should you create a Will?
If you die without a Will, your wishes for distributing your assets may not be carried out. Without a Will, your assets will be divided among your surviving spouse, children, and other relatives in whatever manner the law of your jurisdiction specifies. Therefore, you won’t have an opportunity to divide property among non-relatives or to exclude certain relatives. If you don’t have any relatives, your property will go to the state.
Another reason to create a Will is that without one, your heirs may have to spend additional time, money, and emotional energy to settle your affairs after you’re gone. Trying to divide your assets could also cause unnecessary family strife. Moreover, the courts may decide who takes care of your children if you haven’t outlined your preferred guardians in a Will.
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