19 Questions You Should Ask When Writing a Will

Writing your will is complex and can be emotionally difficult. It’s important to take time to consider all of your assets, how you would like to split your estate, and what kind of legacy you would like to leave behind for your loved ones. Asking these 19 questions will help you ensure your executors can follow your wishes effectively.

How Do I Avoid Probate for My Beneficiaries?

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Probate can be a long, costly process that is hard for family members. One way you can bypass probate is with a living trust. According to Experian, “A living trust is a legal entity that allows you to designate beneficiaries who will receive your assets after you die.”

What Are the Consequences of a Poorly Drafted Will?

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Not taking the time to ensure your will is written clearly and correctly can cause legal challenges, which may lead to the will being invalidated or parts of it being ignored. By using unclear language, you risk court battles among your beneficiaries, which will increase their stress at an emotional time as well as incur large legal expenses.

How Can I Ensure My Pets Are Cared For?

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While you cannot leave money to your pets, you can leave provisions for them to be looked after as you wish. You could opt to set up a pet trust where you specify a caregiver and allocate funds for their maintenance and veterinary care.

Can My Executor Also Be a Beneficiary?

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According to Money Helper, “There’s no rule against people named in your will as beneficiaries being your executors. In fact, this is very common.” By choosing a beneficiary to be your executor, you can often streamline the process of the distribution of your assets after your death.

What Should I Consider When Leaving Assets to a Minor?

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It’s important to note that minors cannot directly manage their inherited assets, so you’ll need to set up a trust or custodianship to manage funds until they reach adulthood. You can specify an age or other conditions under which the child should receive their inheritance and who should manage the assets until that time.

What If I Own Property in Multiple States?

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Owning property in different states can make your estate more complicated, as each state may have different laws surrounding probate and property taxes. It may be a good idea to set up a trust to hold the properties so that they are all under one legal entity to potentially avoid multiple probate proceedings.

How Should I Handle My Business in the Will?

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If you own your own business, you’ll want to specify who will take over the management or ownership of business activities and assets in the event of your death. You could consider a buy-sell agreement or write a succession plan to help prevent disruptions to operations.

What Can I Do to Reduce Estate Taxes?

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Taxes can be a heavy burden on beneficiaries, so it’s a good idea to work with your lawyer to minimize these costs where you can. Some methods include gifting assets to individuals and charities during your lifetime and setting up living trusts. You should also make sure your plan remains up to date with current tax laws.

Are There Items I Should Not Include in My Will?

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Life insurance policies will have designated beneficiaries attached to them; therefore, you shouldn’t include these in the will. MoneyWeek says, “If you wish to change the beneficiary, it’s better to contact the relevant pension/insurance company and make the change to your policy.”

What Legal Changes Could Affect My Will in the Future?

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Changes in estate and inheritance tax laws vary by state, and these can affect the distribution and taxation of your assets. Legal changes within your family can also affect your will, and events such as marriages, divorces, and births can change the dynamics of your will.

How Do I Handle Multiple Wills for Different Countries?

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If you have assets in multiple countries, it may be a good idea to have a separate will in each country that reflects local laws and taxes. You will need to make sure each will is written in respect of one another so that it does not become invalid. To do so, it may be helpful to talk with legal experts in each country.

What’s the Best Way to Update My Will?

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It’s essential to regularly review and update your will in order to reflect changes in your estate or changes in your beneficiaries. To do this, you can either execute a new will or add a codicil, which is an amendment for minor changes.

Can I Disinherit Someone in My Will?

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You can disinherit relatives from your will, but when it comes to your spouse or children, you’ll want to clearly state this fact to avoid any presumption that you’ve accidentally not included them. Will & Trust says, “Although it might be a difficult decision to come to, the end result will be worth it, knowing your estate will be passed down as you intend.”

How Can I Ensure My Executor Has All Necessary Information?

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Providing your executor with a detailed list of all of your assets, liabilities, and important documents, including where they can be found, can help to ensure they can carry out their duties effectively. You should also consider providing them with access to a secure document that contains account numbers, passwords, and other critical financial information.

What If My Chosen Executor Is Unable to Serve?

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Although you may have carefully chosen an appropriate and trustworthy executor, it’s always important to choose an alternative person in case of death, incapacity, or unwillingness. Make sure to properly discuss the responsibilities with your primary and alternate executors to ensure they are both willing and prepared to handle the duties.

Should I Discuss the Contents of My Will with My Family?

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Being transparent with your family can help to prevent misunderstandings and disputes after you pass away. Although it is up to you, Willful suggests that “having these discussions will give you and your family the peace of mind that you would honor each other’s legacy, and be empowered with the key information and decisions they need after someone passes away.”

How Can I Include Specific Wishes for Items with Emotional Value?

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Items with specific sentimental or emotional value can be specifically listed in your will in order to avoid disputes or upsets between family members. You could consider detailing this in an attached memo; just ensure it’s referenced in the will if required by law.

What Are the Risks of Using a DIY Will Kit?

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DIY kits may seem like a cheaper and easier way to write your will, but they often don’t comply with your state’s specific legal requirements, risking the validity of your wishes. They can also oversimplify estate issues, which may lead to disputes between your beneficiaries.

How Do I Handle Debts and Expenses in My Will?

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State laws regarding debt repayment can vary, so make sure to speak to your lawyer to understand these rules fully. You should also specify that any debts and final expenses should be paid out of the estate’s assets before distribution to beneficiaries.

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