What to Put in a Will

December 21, 2020

If you’re considering creating a will, the first question you probably have is, “What should I put in my will?” And it’s a great question. After all, a will can be an intimidating document, and figuring out what to include in it can feel overwhelming especially if you’re managing legal documents for aging parents. Don’t worry, though - the team at Pillar Life will guide you through it in this post. 

Here’s everything you should know about what to put in a will and why each section matters.

3 Critical Things to Include in Your Will

Not sure what to include in your will? Here are three must-haves for just about any will or estate plan:

1. Guardianship

Wills aren’t just about who gets your house or car after you pass. If you’re a parent, guardianship is one of the biggest reasons to create a will.

If you were to die, guardianship guarantees your kids go to the person you would want to care for them. As you draw up your will, you’ll name a guardian for your minor kids. If you were to die before your children are legally adults, the guardian you name would step in to take care of them. 

Here’s why this matters: if you die without a will, and you haven't specified guardianship for your children, the law will dictate that your child goes to your next of kin, which may be a parent or a sibling. For some people, though, this is not the desired outcome. If you want to make sure your children end up with your guardian of choice, you have to specify guardianship in your will.

While you don’t legally have to obtain permission from a loved one to name them as guardians, experts recommend it. You may also want to list back-up guardians and list any preferred guardians as contingent beneficiaries on your life insurance policies. 

2. Real property

Real property” is designated as your home(s), buildings, and other residences, rather than just your belongings. While transferring these items in your will is a bit more challenging than leaving family jewelry to your favorite grandchild, it can be done. However, if you have real property to transfer, it’s essential to enlist an attorney to help you with your will.

You probably don’t want to go it alone if you have a house, an office, and a vacation home — especially one that’s in a different state. Depending on your situation or estate plan, your attorney may even recommend establishing a trust to protect your more valuable real property and other assets from costly and lengthy probate. In this case, it would be helpful to know what is the difference between a will and a trust.

Here’s why this matters: Transferring real property can be complicated. Doing it right requires the help of a skilled attorney to avoid tax consequences and other legal ramifications. 

3. Assets

Your will is by far the easiest way to leave assets to your friends and loved ones. Fortunately, this is an easy process. Be as specific as possible, and list each family member or other heir and which asset or piece of property you’d like for them to inherit. Ensure you’ve described the property in detail, so the courts and the person executing your will understand completely. For example, if you’re passing a car down to your child, specify the vehicle’s make and model to avoid any confusion.

Remember that a will also allows you to distribute bank accounts, money, keepsakes, and more. This is, in fact, one of the largest differences between a will, a living will, and a Living Trust. A Living Trust transfers ownership of these items into a trust and distributes them after you’ve died. All of these different types of wills might have different price tags associated with them so it can be helpful to know how much a will costs before deciding.

Here’s why this matters: One of the most significant benefits of creating a will is that it allows you to avoid confusion regarding your assets. While nobody likes to think about it, the distribution of assets can generate a lot of infighting in a family, which is a painful thought for many people.

Fortunately, you can limit this fighting by specifying precisely what you want to happen with your assets. To avoid confusion, lay out exactly who gets what, and consider adding an additional letter for clarification or to explain your reasoning.

What you Should Never put in Your Will

While there’s a lot you want to include in your will, there are also dozens of things you don’t want to include in this legal document. It can also help to know all the different types of wills to help you. These include the following:

  • Property that will pass along directly to your beneficiaries without having to go through probate.  
  • Jointly-owned property, since it will typically pass to the co-owner upon your death. 
  • Conditional gifts, since your will may not be able to enforce the terms of those gifts. 
  • While you can include personal sentiments in your will package, they should be in the letter of intent rather than the will itself. 

If any of that is confusing (shouldn’t everything go in a will?), you’ll definitely want to consult a lawyer to help you set up a will that works for your particular financial and dependent situation.

A Checklist for Creating Your Will

Wondering how to prepare a will? Here’s a quick checklist to help you get started: 

  • Decide which of your property to include in your will. Make a list of all your property and decide what to include in your will, and who you want to give it to.
  • Decide which heir(s) you’ll leave your belongings to. You can leave anything to anyone, although most people decide to leave items to loved ones or friends. Whatever you decide, be as specific as you can in each beneficiary designation.
  • Appoint an executor for your will. Name an executor to see that your wishes are carried out. 
  • Select a guardian for your kids. Decide who you would want to name as a legal guardian for your minor children if you were to die before they turned eighteen. 
  • Select someone to manage your childrens’ legal property. This person is typically the same as the legal guardian, although it could be a different individual. Talk to an attorney if you have questions. 
  • Write your will. Use DIY software or hire an attorney to help you. 
  • Sign your will in front of a notary and witnesses. If you create it in an attorney’s office, they will facilitate a will signing for you. Your estate planning attorney can often furnish witnesses for you. If you DIY your will, you may have to find your own witnesses and notary. 
  • Secure your will. Go to the Pillar Life to store your will and other personal, legal, and medical documents safely and securely where your loved ones can access it when they need to.

Keep Your Will Safe With Pillar Life

If you’ve been looking for a place to store your will and other personal or legal documents, Pillar Life is the solution. Your digital file vault, we make it easy to encrypt, store, and share the documents you need with the people you love.

Start your free 14-day trial now to see if Pillar is right for you and your family.

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