Because a will is effective only upon death, it stands as your last statement to the world. A will contains final instructions, disposes of your property, names a guardian for your minor children and appoints an executor for your estate. Although you can modify your will during your lifetime, upon your death the terms are fixed and unalterable. Paying attention to preliminary details ensures that your final statement represents your true intentions. Consulting an attorney will ensure proper distribution of property
List your property. Start with real property, giving the street address and estimated value for each parcel. List bank and investment accounts, including the bank name and account number. Add your vehicles, including cars, trucks, RVs, boats, motorcycles and even bicycles. Pull together identifying information such as license plate numbers. Enumerate personal items of monetary value such as furs and jewelry, as well as items of sentimental value such as your grandmother's bible. Include debts owed to you in your listing of assets, identifying by debtor information and written contract, if any.
Read More: Responsibilities of the Executor of a Will After Death
List your potential heirs. Include spouse, children, siblings, parents and other dependents. Add best friends, good neighbors and anyone else with whom you are close. If you support any organizations or associations or would like to, put them on the list as well. Give both first and last names so as to avoid confusion, and double-check the spelling and registration name for any organizations that property will be distributed to.
Line up assets with heirs. Do not feel obliged to include bequests for all potential heirs; make a short list or leave everything to one person, if you prefer. List on a clean sheet your decisions as to your bequests.
Consider adding conditions to your bequests. One popular condition is that the heir be alive at the time of your death. Determine your preferences if an heir predeceases you. Name an alternative beneficiary, if you decide to make the bequest conditional.
Select a guardian for your minor children. Decide on your choice of executor for your will. An executor files your will in probate, gathers your assets and then distributes them according to the terms of your will.
Take the information you have gathered and the lists you have compiled to an estate attorney or use them to draft your own will. Attorneys can help with thorny inheritance questions and offer estate tax advice.
Don't confuse your preparation with an executed will. This excellent preparatory step is only a step toward making a valid last will and testament, not a substitute for it.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.