First things first: Your Will
Your last will and testament is the legal document that outlines how you want your assets and debts to be handled after your death. It’s the essential document to make your wishes clear for your family and heirs. It describes “who gets what” and is foundational to all estate plans, no matter how simple or complex. You may need a trust as well, contact an attorney for advice.
Name an executor
Choose someone you trust who knows you well. The executor carries out what you’ve described in your legal documents; he or she does everything from paying bills, closing accounts, getting in touch with your heirs, and more, depending on what your estate includes. You will probably want to name a digital executor to handle any social media or online accounts.
Do you have a retirement account at work? Do you hold any life insurance? Be sure these designations are up-to-date, and that what you state in your will matches up.
If you have minor children or other family members who require care, identify the person(s) who will take over upon your death. If appropriate, you can name a physical guardian for day-to-day care and a separate trustee to manage an inheritance.
Choose a health care agent
Depending on your situation, you may opt to prepare additional documents related to health care decisions, but at a minimum, indicate in your will who should make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. This is often called a living will.
Choose a durable financial power of attorney agent
If you are alive yet incapacitated you need a trusted person to act on your behalf. Some financial institutions have their own power of attorney forms so be sure to ask if you will need those as well.
Any particular gifts of money or tangible items – whether it’s a donation to your favorite charity or a piece of jewelry for your niece – should be clearly described. Decisions about who should receive personal belongings such as artwork, china or furniture can become heated, so go into as much detail as you think necessary to avoid family drama.
How do you go about creating your will? Many people are most comfortable sitting down with an attorney in person. You can find a lawyer through your state bar association or by asking friends or family for recommendations. For less complicated financial situations, you can create your own will online and there are websites that will create a will at no cost to you. Do a web search and consider all of your options.
Of course, a will is only useful if your executor knows where to find it; be sure you leave clear instructions for him or her about accessing your information at Will and A Way, as well as the location of your paper documents.
Information shared here is not to be taken as legal or financial advice. Suggestions and resources are presented for your consideration and may or may not apply to your personal situation. Please consult your advisers.