Wills can be complicated or very simple. Many of us can get away with having a very simple will. These are cases where a complicated will won’t accomplish anything that a simple will won’t. A sophisticated will can be expensive to create and to execute.
A basic will is reasonable if your health is acceptable and you’re under the age of 50. Your net worth should also be low enough that estate taxes aren’t an issue. This means that the value of your estate, including the prior taxable gifts given, don’t exceed $5,450,000. That figure applies in 2016.
A more sophisticated will is necessary if the above conditions aren’t met. If you want more control over the dispersion of your assets, a more detailed will is necessary. You’ll also want a more detailed will if you believe a prior spouse will be an issue, or if your children and current spouse don’t get along.
Regardless of your state of residence, several things should be part of a well-written will:
- A description of yourself. This description must be detailed enough to be clear regarding your identity. The will must clearly be your will and not possibly someone else’s. Avoid any confusion.
- Your executor. Someone has to carry out the instructions of your will. Include a backup, just in case. It goes without saying that it should be someone you trust. It can be a good friend, family member, or your attorney.
- A list of your beneficiaries. Normally, this would include your spouse, children, and any institutions or charities you wish to leave part or all of your estate to. It can also include non-family members.
- The distribution of your assets. This can be as simple or detailed as you’d like. You can give your tools to your brother, your beer can collection to your uncle, and your golf clubs to your son.
- Instructions for the care of any minor children. Whom do you want to care for your kids if both you and your spouse are gone? Ensure the other party agrees with this arrangement!
- Choose someone to handle your children’s property. An underage child requires a property custodian.
- Ensure that the will is signed in front of at least two witnesses. Getting your will notarized is always a good idea, but usually not required. Use witnesses you trust.
All that’s left to do is to find a good place to store your will. Ensure that your executor knows the location and can access your will. It’s a good idea to keep copy in a different location, just in case.
If you don’t have a will, you can create one for as little as $50. Avoid handwriting a will, as it often causes challenges later on. Invest this small sum of money to ensure that your estate is handled according to your wishes. An hour with a qualified attorney isn’t necessary, but isn’t a bad idea.
Ensure that your assets are passed along as you see fit. Without a will, the government will distribute your assets for you in accordance with the laws of your state.