With a will or trust, you decide who gets what when you pass away and save your family time and money.
If you die without a will, state law and the courts may determine who will administer your estate, handle financial matters and act as guardian for your minor children. What's more, if you don't have a will, your estate will take much longer to settle. Some estates are tied up in probate for more than a year, creating hardship on next of kin. To avoid probate of your estate entirely, create a living trust.
How to get a will or living trust
The law is very exacting in its requirements with respect to the publications, signing and witnessing of wills. A homemade will may not stand up in court; we recommended you use a competent attorney for your will. The best way to find a good lawyer? Ask your friends. Sure, you can use Google or call your state bar association, but a personal referral cannot be beat when it comes to finding the right person for this job. A post on your social networks or a text to friends will likely yield plenty of recommendations to sort through.
The cost of a will depends on whether you're married, have children, own property and other factors, including whether you ask your attorney to draw up other estate planning documents, such as a durable power of attorney and an advance directive. The more complex your needs, the greater the fees.
A lawyer may charge anywhere from $300 to $1,200 to create a will. A living trust could cost more. You may pay by the hour, but attorneys who specialize in wills and trusts often charge a flat fee—so you know exactly how much your documents will cost before you get started.
We believe you will find the cost of drafting your will and planning your estate to be a worthwhile investment.
If you have a simple estate, a basic DIY will may suffice. Office supply stores and Amazon sell will kits with forms and instructions. They run $15 to $50. There are also websites that will provide you with the documents and guide you through the process. These services range from free to $100. U.S. News & World Report.
What to include in your will
If you're married, most likely all of your belongings will transfer to your spouse or family. If you're not married, you'll need to specify a guardian for your minor children and what you want done with your home, money and other things, such as:
You can will your car, truck, boat, motorcycle—even a tractor or golf cart—to anyone you'd like.
Antiques and artwork in particular may be things for which you'd like to specify recipients.
Your engagement ring, your grandmother's pearls, a gold watch—these are the sorts of things that children often fight over. If you're specific in your will, they won't have to sort it out.
Do you have a collection with monetary value, such as rare books or coins? Or a collection with sentimental value, such as baseball cards or Beanie babies. Either way, leave your collection to someone who will appreciate it as much as you do.
Don't overlook the need to include your companion animals in your will or living trust. If you don't have a spouse or partner, you can designate someone to take care of your pets. You can also leave the new guardian the money to do so.
Why you need to name an executor
In your will, you name not only beneficiaries but also an executor—the person who reads your will and sees that your wishes are carried out. This could be a family member, friend, attorney, accountant, bank or trust company. What matters most is that the executor is someone who is responsible. It will help, too, if that person is patient and emotionally grounded.
When choosing an executor, consider that person will:
- Make court appearances for the estate
- Maintain your property until the estate is settled
- Pay the bills until the estate is settled
- Pay the taxes on the estate until it's settled
- Distribute your assets
For performing these functions, the executor receives payment from the estate.
Your executor must be at least 18 years old and can live anywhere, though non-U.S. citizens living outside the United States cannot be sole executors. Former felons are almost always disqualified.
Putting it all together
It's easy to underestimate how difficult thorough estate planning can be. It takes a good amount of time and effort to get the many parts in place:
You may want to let your close family members know what you're working on along the way, and be sure at least one person—next of kin or a close friend—knows how to access your documents in case of an emergency or at the time of your death.
And, finally, review your will every few years, particularly if you move or your family situation changes.