How to Prepare a Will
While almost everyone should have a will, only about one-third of Americans have an estate plan in place. Having a last will and testament is important because it ensures your money and property will be distributed to the people you want to receive it after you pass.
If you pass away without a will, also known as dying "intestate", your estate will be settled in accordance with state law. Details vary by state, but assets are typically distributed using a hierarchy of survivors i.e., first to a spouse, then to children, then your siblings, and so on.
You should also be aware that certain accounts take precedence over a will. For example, if you jointly own a home or a bank account, the house and the funds in the account will go to the joint holder, even if your will directs otherwise. Similarly, retirement accounts and life insurance policies are distributed to the beneficiaries you designate, so it is important to keep those up to date.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
Creating a will with a do-it-yourself software program may be acceptable in some cases, particularly if you are a young person with a simple, straightforward estate and an uncomplicated family situation. If you have minor children, a blended family, a difficult family member, own real estate, own a business or have a substantial estate, you may save thousands of dollars in estate costs by seeking professional advice. An experienced lawyer can make sure you cover all your bases, which can help avoid family confusion and lawsuits after you are gone.
Costs will vary depending on your location and the complexity of your situation, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $250 and $8,000 or more to have your will drafted. To help you save, shop around and get price quotes from several different firms. If expenses are of issue, search online to find low-cost legal help in your area. It is also recommended that if you decide to create your own will, have a lawyer review it to make sure it covers all the important bases.
You may find that a will is a start to an estate plan, but a living trust may be better suited for many individuals. An estate planning attorney can help determine what is the best course of action for your circumstances.
Where to Store it?
Once your will is written, the best place to keep it is either in a fireproof safe or file cabinet at home or on a secure digital storing site with your login credentials held securely. However you decide to store your will, make sure your executor knows where it is and has access to it. If a professional prepares your will, ask to keep the original document at your lawyer's office. Also, be sure to update your will if your family or financial circumstances change or if you move to another state.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.