You can leave your property, money and other assets to the people you want. Without a will your “estate” must go through the probate system before any of your assets can pass to your heirs. That can take time and money, and it makes your financial affairs public record. With a trust, your assets pass seamlessly to your beneficiaries, ensuring that family, friends or charities you wanted to benefit do.
Your partner may benefit. If you aren’t married to your partner, he or she could end up with nothing if you die without a will. Legally a partner counts only as a friend, not next of kin.
You can choose your children’s guardian. Your children’s future can be protected if you choose a legal guardian to be responsible for their upbringing in the event of your death. Of course you need to get the person’s permission before nominating them. If you don’t specify anyone, it will be left to surviving relatives to sort out who looks after them, and it may end up being someone you would never have chosen yourself. And, finally, don’t let this element hold you back—yes, it’s hard to decide, but you can change your will later, so if Uncle John isn’t the best person five years from now, you can change it to Aunt Sue.
You can ensure that your wishes are carried out. When making a will you also appoint one or two executors whose task is to make sure of this. Again, you need their permission before nominating your executors.
How to go about it:
- Make a list of everything you own, including property, cars, your home contents, bank or savings accounts, any shares, assets, and life insurance. Then make a list of all you owe, such as mortgages, hire purchase agreements, loans, or credit. Bring this to an attorney’s office if you hire one, or use it to fill out a do-it-yourself kit.
- Decide if you need an attorney. There are do-it-yourself kits such as Suze Orman Will & Trust CD-Rom or that found on www.nolo.com. Basically, an attorney helps if someone in the family disputes the will as the attorney will keep a second copy and can come to your behalf, even after death, if you request it. If you strongly feel that no one would contest the will, you don’t need an attorney. If you want to be safe, enlist the help of one. If you don’t hire an attorney, make sure your executors know where you have kept your latest will.
- You need to sign and acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses (three in Vermont).