Whether you are drawing up your will on your own or bringing in an attorney, you need to prepare before jumping in. Preparation involves understanding what a will is, what it does and the types of information you should include in it.
A will is a legal document in which you specify what you want done with your property after you die. You must be an adult to make a valid will and be of sound mind when you make it. It must be signed by the number and type of will witnesses required in your state. In a few states like California, holographic wills -- those written, dated and signed entirely in the handwriting of the maker -- are valid without witnesses, but most other kinds of wills need several witness signatures to be valid. Check your state's laws before you begin.
List of Assets
A good way to start will preparation is putting together a list of all of your assets, including real property, personal property, bank accounts, stock accounts, jewelry, fine art and anything else of value you own. This is very important if you plan to divide your property between several beneficiaries. It may also be useful to get professional estimates on valuation of big-ticket items.
Draw up a list of your immediate family members -- spouse and children -- and be sure each one is mentioned in the will. Even if you decide not to include one or more of your family members as beneficiaries, you will want to identify them and state your intent so the probate court won't think you simply forgot about them. Make a second list of all other persons and entities to whom you intend to leave property, complete with identifying information such as full names, birthdates and last known addresses for individuals and complete names and addresses of entities like nonprofit corporations.
Specific and General Bequests
If you are going to leave all of your property to one person, or to several people in equal shares, you do not need to plan out who gets what unless you want to; this can be done in the probate proceeding. If you plan to assign certain assets to specific beneficiaries, it's better to think through the bequests before you sit down to prepare your will. If you want to give property to one person for life, then to another person, make notes of your intentions so that you can advise your attorney.
Name an Executor and a Guardian
After the maker dies, a will generally passes through the court-supervised probate process so that assets are identified and debts paid before the remaining property is eventually distributed to beneficiaries. A person termed the executor manages the process. You need to select an executor and name that person in your will. If you have minor children, you should also consider who you wish to be their guardian.
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