I know most of you can barely hold yourself back from dialing that phone and calling your estate planning attorney to set an appointment to do your will. But let’s reign in some of that enthusiasm and do a little preparation first. What things should you be thinking about before you meet with your estate planner.
1. How large an estate do you have?
Your estate planning attorney needs to get at least a rough idea of the size of your estate and what constitutes it, so he or she can appropriately advise you. If your estate is large enough, special trusts within the will may be suggested. Or the planner may suggest that you begin some lifetime giving on a regular basis to your children or others in order to accomplish your objectives and reduce the size of your estate to avoid estate taxes.
2. Who will inherit your property?
For most people, it isn’t hard to decide who gets what. But you may wish to disinherit some people or make special provision for others. After you make your first choices, you need to think who you want to receive your property if those first selections don’t survive you.
Every will should name someone to serve as executor, to carry out the terms of the will. Be sure that the person you have in mind is willing to serve and has the skills to do well at the job — the job shouldn’t come as a surprise. For more information, see my previous post on executors.
If your children are under 18 or you might have children after you prepare the will, decide who you want to raise them in the very unlikely event that you and their other parent can’t. For more information, see my previous post on guardians.
If you leave property to children or young adults, you should choose an adult to manage whatever they inherit. Additionally, there may be a variety of trusts that could be created by your will if certain circumstances arise at the time of your death. The person who manages this property is a trustee. For more information, see my previous post on trustees. When relatively small amounts are involved for minors you may just need a custodian under the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA).
Once you’ve made these decisions, you are ready to call your estate planning attorney. Don’t put this off. More than once I’ve had a client pass away before we completed the process of getting their will in place. This can have disastrous consequences to the achievement of your desires.
Once you have the will signed and witnessed appropriately, be sure to store it in a safe place and let your executor know how he or she can find and access it when you die.
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