Plan for the Future

The Life Cycle of Your Will

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From planning and creating a will to the execution of your wishes after your death, here's what you need to know about the life cycle of your will.

Planning your will

Before you create your will, you'll want to do some initial planning. Basic issues to consider:

  • Who will you leave your assets to when you die? Family members? Other loved ones? Charitable organizations?
  • Who will care for your children if you die before they turn 18? Will the same person manage their financial assets?
  • Who will be the executor of your will?

Creating your will

If you have a very simple situation – you've never been married and plan to leave all of your assets to one individual, for instance – you may want to consider creating your own basic will using attorney-created, state-specific will templates.

In most instances you should hire an attorney to help create your will. An attorney will:

  • Gather information about you, your family members, assets and liabilities.
  • Help you with estate planning issues such as whether you need a trust for your children's inheritance and whether probate can be avoided for some assets by putting them in joint tenancy or naming beneficiaries.
  • Discuss additional documents to consider such as a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney.

The process usually takes a few weeks, but an attorney can often create a basic will more quickly if you have an urgent need.

Regular reviews

You should review your will at least once a year to make sure it still meets your needs. For instance, once your children reach age 18, you will likely want to revise your will to give them their share outright upon your death. You should also revise your will for other big life changes, such as marriage, divorce and family deaths.

Execution of your will

The probate period

This is when the legal system determines how your assets should be distributed after your death. Many of your assets will go directly to your heirs without going through probate, such as:

  • Life insurance, retirement plans or any other assets for which there is a named beneficiary.
  • Assets owned as a joint tenant with "right of survivorship," meaning assets will pass to the surviving owner.
  • Community property with right of survivorship.
  • Living trusts.

If some assets need to go through probate, your executor will work with an attorney to create a probate inventory to file with the court in your county of residence along with your will.

Simple probates can usually be accomplished in six months or less, but sometimes the process can take a year or more depending on estate complexity.

Distribution of assets

After the probate period, the executor and the attorney will pay any legitimate claims against the estate, pay any taxes and distribute assets to your beneficiaries.

Now that you know how they work, get started on creating your will.

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