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  • Writer's pictureJose Roman

Guide to Preparing Your Will

By: Jose Roman

Guide to Preparing Your Will

Preparing a will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that your wishes are carried out after you pass away. It allows you to distribute your assets, name guardians for your children, and make other important decisions about your estate. However, many people find the process of preparing a will overwhelming or confusing. In this blog post, we will discuss important elements to consider when preparing a will.

Identify Your Assets

The first step in preparing a will is to make a comprehensive list of your assets. This includes your home, any investment accounts, vehicles, personal property, and any other items of value. It is important to be specific in your descriptions of these assets, to avoid confusion or disputes later on. You should also identify any liabilities you have, such as loans or mortgages, as these will need to be taken into account when distributing your assets. At Roman Estate Law, you will be provided with an estate planning questionnaire for this purpose. Completing the questionnaire is a great step in identifying your estate and its worth, as many people may not be entirely sure what their estate consists of until they see it written down on a form like the questionnaire. The questionnaire also allows your estate planning attorney to provide advice on the structure of your estate plan, whether it is a Will based or Trust based plan.

Choose an Executor

An executor is the person responsible for carrying out your wishes after you pass away. This can be a family member, friend, or a professional such as a lawyer or accountant. It is important to choose someone you trust to handle this responsibility, as they will need to manage your assets, pay any outstanding debts, and distribute your assets according to your wishes. You should discuss your decision with the person you choose to ensure they are willing to accept the responsibility. Consider who will be a backup to your primary executor, as they may not be able or willing to serve, in which case naming a successor or two can alleviate any conflicts that can arise.

In addition to an Executor, you want to consider naming trustees of any trusts contained in your will or allow your executor the discretion to name one. A trust contained in a will is called a testamentary trust and is frequently included in wills when a potential beneficiary is a minor or someone who has a disability. Additionally, you may include a special needs trust in your will if your family situation requires one. In any event, do not miss out on the opportunity to name one or more trustees in your will if it contains trust language.

Finally, in addition to executors and trustees, do not forget to name guardians if you have minor children, who will be responsible for taking care of your children after your passing. Careful consideration should be given to who you name, as this person or persons will be responsible for raising your children until they become adults. Similar to an executor you should discuss your decision with the person you want to name, as who you have in mind may not be willing to take on that role, or have a desire to raise your children.

Name Beneficiaries

Your beneficiaries are the people who will receive your assets after you pass away. You should be specific in identifying who you want to receive your assets, as well as what assets they will receive. It is important to consider the age of your beneficiaries and any special needs they may have when determining how your assets will be distributed.

Consider Taxes

When preparing a will, it is important to consider the tax implications of your decisions. Depending on the size of your estate and the laws in your state, your beneficiaries may be subject to estate or inheritance taxes. You can minimize the impact of these taxes by creating trusts or making gifts to your beneficiaries during your lifetime, or carefully selecting who your beneficiaries are. For example, in Pennsylvania transfers to a surviving spouse are subject to a 0% inheritance tax, and transfers to surviving descendants are subject to 4.5% inheritance tax. Other transfers are subject to significantly higher tax rates. You should consult with a tax professional or estate planning attorney to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

Plan for Contingencies

Life can be unpredictable, and it is important to plan for contingencies when preparing a will. This means considering what will happen if your beneficiaries predecease you or if you have additional children or grandchildren after you create your will. You can plan for these contingencies by including language that addresses these scenarios in your will. It is important to discuss with your estate planning attorney several potential scenarios in case an expected beneficiary predeceases you or if a particular piece of property is missing from your estate at the time of your death and how those situations should be handled. One or two backup scenarios should be considered, otherwise your state’s laws may determine what happens in that situation.

Update Your Will

To piggyback off Number 5, it is important to review and update your will regularly. Life circumstances can change, such as the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary, or a change in your financial situation or in what property you own. It is important to ensure that your will reflects your current wishes and that it remains valid under the law. While a change in circumstances isn’t going to necessarily invalidate your will, it may result in an undesirable outcome due to state law’s interpretation of your will, which is also why you want to have several contingencies in place as mentioned above. You should review your will every few years, or whenever there is a significant change in your life circumstances to keep your wishes intact and to avoid the application of state statutes to interpret your Will.

Consider the Role of a Trust

In addition to a will, you may want to consider creating a trust. A trust is a legal entity that allows you to transfer assets to a trustee, who will manage those assets for the benefit of your beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Some can be included in your will and others can be separate documents. A trust can provide greater control over how your assets are distributed, minimize taxes, and protect your assets from creditors or lawsuits. You should consult with an estate planning attorney to determine if a trust is right for your situation.

Seek Professional Assistance

Preparing a will can be a complex and emotional process, and it is important to seek professional assistance to ensure that your wishes are carried out correctly. An estate planning attorney can help you navigate the legal requirements and ensure that your will is valid and enforceable. They can also help you identify potential issues or challenges and provide guidance on how to address them. Additionally, a financial advisor or tax professional can provide valuable insight into the tax implications of your decisions and help you develop a plan to minimize taxes.

In conclusion, preparing a will is an important step in ensuring that your wishes are carried out after you pass away. By identifying your assets, choosing an executor, naming beneficiaries, considering taxes, planning for contingencies, updating your will, considering the role of a trust, and seeking professional assistance, you can create a comprehensive and enforceable estate plan. It is important to take the time to carefully consider your decisions and seek the guidance of professionals to ensure that your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

Don't wait until it's too late - start planning your estate today with our help. Contact us to schedule a consultation and let us help you protect your assets, minimize taxes, and ensure that your wishes are carried out. Your future and your loved ones' future are too important to leave to chance - let us help you create a comprehensive estate plan that gives you peace of mind. Contact us today!

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