Nobody lives forever, so no matter how young or healthy you are, almost everyone should have a valid will. A will determines who gets your stuff. A will determines who watches your kids. A will can keep family members from squabbling after you’re gone.
Without a will, the State determines how your assets are divided, according to very specific guidelines. So even though you may want some money or possessions to go to, say, your stepchild or best friend, absent a will they may not get a thing. It’s that element of control that makes a will so important, even if you don’t have a ton of money.
Here are a few things to consider before drafting this crucial document:
- Don’t create one on your own. While many websites offer do-it-yourself or cheaply crafted varieties, a will is too important to go discount. (Anyway, having a professional lawyer draft one is not too expensive.) Many wills from these websites are poorly drafted, with ambiguous wording. Sometimes they don’t execute them properly, with the state-mandated number of witnesses or such. Some programs even offer will services that aren’t state-specific, so you could end up with a will that the court won’t accept. And since you won’t be around to redraft fixes to these problems, the court would treat your estate as if you died without a will. To avoid these potential problems, work with an attorney with knowledge of all the laws in your home state.
- Select your personal representative with care. While many people think their spouse or oldest child should automatically be their personal representative (in charge of managing and disbursing your assets after you die), think clearly if they have the best skills and temperament for the job. A good representative should be detail oriented, trustworthy, fair, and patient (probates can take from a few months to a year). State law places limits on who can be your personal representative; again, a lawyer with knowledge of your state can help you decide.
- Do a mental inventory of all your assets. You don’t have to enumerate in a will how much money goes to each heir, only the percentage of your final estate. But mentally calculating how much you have, including property, valuable jewelry, artwork, and the like, can help you determine if you have enough to leave a bequest to more than your immediate family. Of course, a will can also specify how you want to handle your tangible property, including any embryos you may have frozen during prior treatments for infertility!
- Plan for backup beneficiaries. Clients often tell me they don’t want to think about the possibility that their child may predecease them. And while I agree that is awful to contemplate, the truth is your will may not be probated for decades, and anything can happen between now and then. I won’t even work with clients who won’t include a backup beneficiary in their will (e.g., leaving your daughter’s portion to her children if she is not still alive), because this can create a legal mess for the remaining clan.
If you reside in the state of Florida and need additional information about or help with drafting your will, contact us today at The Law Office of Gary M. Landau.