John C. Rexford
6 Things to Consider When Preparing a Will
“I’ll do it later,” “it is on my to-do list,” or “I’ve started to think about that” is often what we say when we begin to think about planning for our future and how to care for our assets after we pass away. These conversations and are full of emotion. But we all recognize we won’t live forever. There is a benefit to intentionally planning for the care of our estate. The challenge occurs when we wait too long. A Will is one opportunity to speak into how our estate is divided and distributed after we die. If we avoid this process our loved ones may be left with state law as their answer.
6 Things You Need to Know
The tips below highlight considerations when preparing a will and will guide you towards this
important planning process, ensuring you are providing for your family and loved ones in
intentional ways, now and even after you pass.
1. What is a Will?
A will is like writing letter to a judge, instructions to a probate court how
to care for your estate. It is an important document created by an individual to designate
who controls one’s assets after one passes away. A will determines how these assets are
to be divided, dispersed, and allocated. A Will does not transfer assets by itself, but gives
instructions that can be followed in probate court, to guide the court in how to dispose
2. What can be included in a will?
A will involves multiple aspects of your estate, or property or assets that you own. Some items often included in a will may include what is called “Real Property”(or real estate), such as a house or vacation home. Also stock, bank accounts, tangible items such as furniture, jewelry, valuables, or larger items like
cars or RV’s. (A Living Will is a separate legal document that informs family and a medical doctor of one’s preferences about end of life decisions. For example, one can designate their preference not to be kept alive by artificial means if they are terminally ill with no hope of recovery. In addition, you are able to designate someone to carry out this decision for you when you are not able to do so yourself. A document for that purpose is called a Health Care Power of Attorney, which works with a living will to effectuate your wishes and directives in important medical situations).
3. What individuals are included in a will?
Your will can name individuals for whom your assets will go to, if they were left in your name. Beneficiaries, those who will inherit the assets are identified by you in the will. Many folks choose family members as beneficiaries of your will, including a surviving spouse and or children, but charities can
also be named. You have the ability to designate how the contents of your will is distributed and in what fashion. For example, you may say that 100% of your estate is transferred to your surviving spouse after you pass away, and then once your spouse passes away, your estate is equally divided up between your two children, allocating 50% of your belongings, finances, etc. to each. At times, it can be helpful to identify all the important individuals in your life and to write them down on a list before crafting your will, so that you are intentional about how you determine and allocate your estate.
4. Who oversees the will?
Each individual should name someone to oversee the way the contents of a will is distributed. This individual is known as the Personal Representative (formerly called executor), of the Estate, and has the power to disperse the contents of the estate to the beneficiaries. It is sometimes specified, though not recommended, that two individuals serve as Personal Representatives, so that they have the ability and support to make important decisions together. A Personal Representative, named in a will must be over the age of 18, must get appointed by the Court and can also be designated as a beneficiary, though they do not have to be.
5. What are the drawbacks of a will?
A will only takes effect after the individual passes away. Unfortunately, should one become sick, become disabled, or terminally ill, a will offers no protection or effectiveness. In addition, a will does not avoid the need to have one’s assets go through the court. The probate court will have to review a will once an individual passes away, and will then be responsible for disseminating the contents of the will to those identified in the will. Unfortunately, the probate court system can be complicated, involving legal paperwork, attorney fees and may entail a lengthy process, extending the time it takes to pass ownership of the assets in the will. Lastly, probate can also be expensive at times as there are various fees and costs associated with the process.
Also, the privacy of a will is forfeited once it is in court. It becomes part of the public record. A will is often read publicly and the contents of the will can be shared with anyone who would like to know, leaving little privacy for the family as to assets and how they are distributed.
6. What are other ways to care for my financial legacy and last wishes?
One consideration is to explore creating a living trust. A living trust is a written agreement that describes who is to manage your assets, for whose benefit and by what instructions. The trust assumes authority over your assets after you assign them to the trust, but still leaves you in control. As a result, when you are no longer able to manage them yourself, there is no need for legal intervention or court supervision to manage your affairs or distribute your assets. A trust leaves you in control of your assets for as long as you are able to do so and allows a Successor Trustee (the person who controls the trust) to follow through on managing your assets for you, once you are not able to do so.
The important piece about a trust is that it allows you to avoid the delay, cost, and publicity of probate. Because one’s assets are held by the trust, they can be distributed to your children, family, charities, and other entities as you designate without the restrictions or publicity that a will has to go through. A trust include savings accounts, stocks, CD’s, house, vacation home, and other assets to be distributed to those you designate and avoids the process of a judge or court proceeding.
We aim to tailor our services to every client, helping to provide sound financial and legal
advice to strategically guide you towards a sustainable plan for your future.
Reach out to us today to learn more. We look forward to serving you soon!
423-645-2017 (Tennessee Office) // 508-234-9160 (Massachusetts Office)