Writing a Will is not as simple as it sounds. For most people, it requires important decisions on how to divide assets, who to select as an executor and beneficiaries, what to do about amounts owed by you and debts owed to you and how to adequately provide for children, among other considerations.
Preparing a Will is one of the most important steps you can take in managing your finances, yet for many people, it is something they would rather not face. However, if you die intestate (without a Will), state law will apply and determine how your assets are to be distributed. What’s more, if you are a single parent of minor children, the same court will decide with whom your children will live.
On the other hand, if you take the time to prepare a Will, you will be the one who determines how your property is distributed, who will be the guardian of your minor children and who will manage your estate when you are gone.
Drafting a Will
Ideally, your Will should be drawn up by a lawyer, and you (and your heirs, if possible) should be familiar with its general form and contents. Although it is your legal right to do so, it is never a good idea to draft your own Will. You may not be aware of the statutory requirements that exist in your particular state, and some states may have different standards for witnessing a Will or require specific language that must be included in order for the Will to be valid.
When meeting with a lawyer to draft your Will, make sure to bring the proper information, as outlined below:
Finally, be sure to name an alternative executor and guardian in case your first choice is unable to serve at the time of your death.
The Post-Will Process
Once your Will is completed, your original Will should be stored in a secure place and make sure that its location is known to family members and/or close friends. Make a point of reviewing your Will every few years with your attorney — or more often if family circumstances or federal and/or state tax laws change — and revise if necessary to ensure that its contents conform to current laws and that it reflects your current status and desires.
Other Planning Considerations
In addition to a Will, you should consider having the following documents be a part of your basic estate plan:
These are some of the basic estate planning tools that all individuals should consider. Contact me to discuss any of these tools in more detail or for help getting started with your own estate plan.
Michael Caplan is a Financial Advisor and Associate Vice President with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Denver. He can be reached at Michael.Caplan@morganstanley.comor (303) 595-2094.
The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Member SIPC, or its affiliates. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management LLC. Member SIPC.