A well-drafted Will is a vital part of every estate plan. A Will is how you ensure that your wishes are respected, and to help avoid taxes.
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that can address many important issues at your death. Common issues addressed in a Will include:
- Selecting who will oversee your estate. This person is called an Executor in some states and Personal representative in others. The Will is also where you can pick the backup person, should your first choice be unable or unwilling to serve.
- Payment of your debts. When you die, your creditors are paid before any heir can receive an inheritance. In the Will, though, you can determine what assets are used to pay these debts.
- Payment of Taxes. If there are inheritance or estate taxes due, the Will is where you decide if the taxes are paid from the estate’s residue, or if each recipient pays their share.
- Will Contest Defense. If you believe someone will challenge your Will, the Will itself can set up various defenses.
- Protective Trusts. Wills can create protective trusts providing shelter an inheritance from a beneficiary’s divorce and creditors.
- Guardians for your minor children. In your Will, you nominate who you wish to serve as guardian until your children turn 18.
- Burial Arrangements. The Will is also where you name the person who has the legal responsibility and power to arrange your funeral and your final resting place.
What if I Die Without a Will?
If you die without a Will, your assets are then divided up according to state law. Many people mistakenly believe that this means everything passes to a spouse. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, if a married person dies without children but has living parents, a portion of the estate passes to the parents. In other states, if a married person dies with children, then the estate is divided between the surviving spouse and the children.
Having a well-designed Will can avoid all these default rules and make sure your wishes are respected.
Where do I Keep My Will?
Typically, the estate planning lawyer stores the original Will. This way it is not lost. It is not uncommon that when someone gets ill and has to move to a nursing facility that their documents are misplaced. Sometimes this is by accident, other times by design. By leaving your records with your estate planning lawyer and informing your executor of the location, you can rest assured your documents are safe.
Who Should I Name as My Executor?
Your Executor files your Will, gathers your assets, pays your bills and then distributes the assets as you have instructed. Not everyone is cut out to serve as an Executor. Your Executor should be a responsible, diligent person who follows through on this challenging task. He or she should also feel comfortable hiring professionals to guide them when they are unfamiliar with the job. For example, executors often hire accountants, realtors and probate attorneys to help bring the estate to completion as quickly as possible.
In conclusion, this post is a short introduction to a critical and complex issue. Contact an experienced attorney, like an estate lawyer Allentown, PA trusts, in your area to find out what plan best fits your needs.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Klenk Law for their insight into wills and estate planning.