What to Include in a Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is a testamentary document that provides a set of instructions, to both your family and to the probate court, on how you’d like your estate to be handled. Most last wills provide clear instructions on how the testator, (the person making a simple will), would like their property distributed after his or her death. In addition to directing how assets are to be distributed, a last will and testament can also do many other important things.
What Can You do With a Last Will and Testament
Below are some of the most important reasons why you should create a last will and testament.
- Name an executor or personal representative of their estate plan
- Name guardians for minor children
- Provide how an estate will pay debts and taxes
- Give instructions on how pets should be cared for
- Name beneficiaries of the estate
- Specify how you would like your estate to distribute assets
- Make your wishes known
How to Write a Will
Before contacting an attorney to create your will, you should create a list with all the following information to ensure that the process moves along smoothly.
- Identify the beneficiaries who will inherit your estate.
- Choose a legal guardian if you have children under the age of 18 children.
- Find an executor or personal representative for your estate.
- Consider other important issues such as particular funeral interests or who you would like to take care of your pets.
While these are quick and easy questions to consider, if you figure out these issues before beginning the process of creating a will, you will lower the cost of the will and the time it takes to execute the document. In addition to the above information, you should also compile a list of your assets and debts.
- Assets: The assets you should include in your report are bank accounts and bank account balances, real estate holdings, investments, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other expensive personal property such as artwork or jewelry.
- Debts: Including all of your current or expected debts will greatly help your estate move forward after you pass away. For example, debts typically include loan balances but will also include funeral expenses and any cost your estate incurs from probate.
- Digital Assets: You should also include information for your online financial accounts or state where the executor or your estate will be able to access this information. In addition to financials, make sure you list your computer passwords, social media account passwords, and any other account information that would be beneficial for your family or executor. This is an important list as you may need family members or your executor to close or destroy certain accounts.
What to Include in Your Will
The most common reason parents create a will is so that they have the ability to name a guardian for their minor children. By creating a will, you can choose who will look after your children and manage their financial and health records if you were to pass away before they turned 18. While most states would allow your parents, siblings, or other relatives to take custody of your children if you died without a will, not everyone would feel comfortable with any family member caring for their children. Instead, you may feel more comfortable having a close friend care for your children. Creating a will and choosing a guardian—like many other topics covered in a will—allows you to create a legal document that ensures that your wishes are respected.
A last will and testament is by far the easiest way to leave assets to your family members, friends, or charities. To distribute your assets properly, you will simply need to list the benefices to your estate and describe what property goes to each entity. You could create a specific list of items that you want to go to each beneficiary. However, you could also simply state that you want to liquidate your assets after death and give each beneficiary a certain percentage of the total estate’s value. Finally, certain families choose to utilize a lottery system that allows family members to take turns choosing which pieces of property they would like to inherit.
While a last will and testament is a great tool to pass on property, you must make sure to clearly label and describe each of your assets. For example, if you are passing down a car to a beneficiary, list the make and model of the car. Similarly, if leaving bank accounts, including account numbers and where these accounts are housed.
Real property refers to land or any structure that is permanently affixed to land—homes and buildings are the most common form of real property. Leaving real property to beneficiaries can be an extremely difficult and complex task. Thus, if you are planning on passing down real property, it is vital that you speak with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney who has experience both in estate planning and real estate.
Creating an accurate will is extremely important. However, it is almost as vital to update your will after large life events. Below is a list of life-changing events that require you to revisit your will.
- When a child or grandchild needs educational funding.
- Marriage, separation, or divorce.
- Death or change in circumstances of the guardian named in your will for minor children.
- Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild.
- Death of an heir.
- If you or your spouse receive a large inheritance or gift.
- Death or change in circumstances of your personal representative, executor, or trustee.
- Career changes — a new job, promotion, or if you start or close a business.
- Significant changes to your or your spouse’s financial condition.
- Changes in the number of dependents, such as adding the caring of an adult.
- A move to another state.
- When a child or grandchild becomes an adult.
- Significant changes to your or your spouse’s health.
- Borrowing a large amount of money or taking on liability for any reason.
- You start taking distributions from an IRA, 401(k), or another qualified plan.
Contact Our DC Law Office for More Information
Finally, for more on what you should include in a last will and testament, contact us at 202-803-5676. You can also directly schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. Additionally, for general information regarding estate planning, check out our blog.