Planning for the distribution of your estate after your death can be a daunting task. The many different interests and financial concerns related to aging and potential illness can make it confusing to know where to start. A checklist of things to consider when writing out a will can help you to organize your thoughts and information to ensure that your will accurately reflects your intentions.
List the amount and type of your debts to others, including credit cards, mortgages, equity loans, car loans, student loans, personal debts, and outstanding medical or other bills. Do you have enough cash in your accounts to cover these debts? If not, which assets would you like your executor to sell first to cover your estate's outstanding debts? Then list any debts owed to you by others. Do you want these debts to be extinguished at your death, or do you want your executor to collect these debts to add to the value of your estate?
Consider all of your assets, listing all your real estate, bank and investment accounts, retirement accounts and valuable personal property, including artwork, musical instruments, firearms collections and antiques. Then reflect on property you may own of sentimental value, including inherited items, photographs, jewelry or any other items which may have personal meaning beyond their economic worth. Decide for each item whether you would like to leave it directly to one of your heirs, or to have it sold to increase the cash value of your estate.
Consider who you would like to have inherit any assets you may have left in your estate after the payment of your debts. Include in your thoughts not only your immediate family, but also friends, relatives, and institutions or organizations which have contributed positively to your life, or which you would like to support. Determine which beneficiaries you would like to have inherit specific items, like a treasured family heirloom, and which ones you would like to have inherit all or a portion of your cash assets.
Executors and Guardians
Decide who you would like to have serve as the executor of your will. Your executor could be a family member who is savvy with fiscal matters, or a trusted banker or business person. If you have minor children, determine who you would like to name as their guardian. Name an alternative executor and guardian in case your first choice is unable to serve at the time of your death.
Spell out any special circumstances which your executor may need to address, including arrangements for a child who has reached the age of majority but has special needs. If you are specifically excluding a child or grandchild from your will, consider writing that out clearly in your will along with a short statement of the reason, so that your executor and the probate court understand that you did not omit that person by typographical error or mistake. Consider any arrangements you would like to make for the care of livestock or pets, or the continuation of a business enterprise.
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.