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10 Essential Parts of a Will

A will is a tried and true estate planning tool that enables you to, among other things, distribute your assets and protect your legacy. And although every will is different, each should have the following ten features to provide a seamless transition for loved ones and ensure the will’s validity and effectiveness.

  1. Heading, marital history, and children – The first section of your will should include your full name, county of residence, and a declaration that you intend for the document to be your will. Next you should state if you are married, divorced, widowed, or in a common law marriage. Then you should indicate how many children you have and if you have any adopted or step-children. It’s also a good idea to provide the full name(s), address(es) and social security number(s) of your current spouse and all children, so that their identification will be clear when the will is probated.
  2. Debts and taxes – A statement of how your estate’s debts and taxes should be paid and which assets are used to pay them.
  3. Disposition of assets – This section is where your intentions regarding the disposition of your assets is clearly laid out. It should state exactly who you want to receive what property and how such property should be distributed. There are innumerable ways to bequeath and devise your assets so that your wishes may be met, but regardless of how you choose to distribute your assets, it is important to make sure to include a remainder clause, which states that if for whatever reason some of your assets remain after your bequests have been carried out, those remaining assets will go to a given beneficiary. This prevents forgotten or disclaimed assets from being distributed in ways you didn’t intend.
  4. Guardianship – It is vital for you to choose a guardian for your minor children if you should pass before they reach the age of 18. If you don’t include language to this effect, they may end up with someone the state chooses instead of you.
  5. Executor and trustee – The naming of these fiduciaries, who will help administer your estate through the probate process and manage the assets of any trusts you create, is extremely important. These should be trusted individuals, as they will be acting on your behalf so that your wishes are met.
  6. Fiduciary powers – A list of powers you want your executor and trustee to have is critical to ensure that the tasks of administering and managing your estate happen without issue.
  7. No contest provision – We include this clause in every will to ensure the smooth administration of your estate through the probate process. Omitting it opens up the possibility of attacks from third parties and litigation that can costs thousands of dollars.
  8. General provisions – There are a number of miscellaneous provisions that must be included to ensure your will is probated properly and that your wishes are met. They are general in nature and are meant as a safety net to make sure the document has no loose ends.
  9. Definitions – So everyone is on the same page with the meaning of key terms used in your will, a list of definitions is provided.
  10. Trusts – Although trusts are technically optional in a will, they are absolutely essential if you have children under the age of 18. Minor children are unable to accept bequests from a will, so if your intent is to bequeath your younger beneficiaries any type of property, creating some kind of trust (e.g., “minor’s trust” or longer term trust that promotes fiscal responsibility) for them is required.

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This article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be legal, financial, or tax advice. The information provided herein was accurate at the time of publication and is subject to change without notice. We recommend that you consult an estate planning attorney or a tax advisor to discuss how current laws apply to your situation.

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