Five Steps to a Successful Will
Every man and woman reading this article needs a will. Without a will, you forfeit the legal right to control the disposition of assets accumulated throughout your lifetime.
Every will, however, should be different . . . each reflecting the individual needs and the personal objectives of the person making the will. For some of us, a simple will can accomplish all our objectives.
Others may have needs and objectives that demand a highly complex testamentary plan that includes living or testamentary trusts and estate tax strategies.
Whether your will should be long or short, simple or complex, and whatever your needs, wealth or objectives, consider using this five-step approach to willmaking.
Step One: Careful Reflection
Deciding how to dispose of an estate is never a simple matter. Desires often conflict with necessities. Practical considerations may differ from ideals. Equality among beneficiaries may be financially impractical. We really must think very carefully about our true objectives.
A husband may think, “I want to leave everything to my wife.” Upon reflection, however, he may realize that his real objective is simply to provide full financial security for his wife.
A mother may think, “I want to leave $100,000 to my daughter.” Her real objective, however, may be to give her daughter a token of her love. Or her objective may be to give her daughter a contingent security against a failed marriage, poor health or financial misfortune.
Step Two: Consultation
Talk over your objectives with your advisers and get their advice on what your will should provide. Be candid about your feelings and the needs of your beneficiaries.
Your advisers will need specific facts about your assets, your income and your obligations – as well as your sentiments and objectives. The more information you give them the better they can help you plan the shape of your will.
It is at this point that you can decide the specifics of your will: the amounts, percentages or specific properties to be bequeathed to each beneficiary; whether bequests are to be outright or in trust; contingency provisions; persons to be nominated as executors, trustees or guardians, etc.
Step Three: Skillful Drafting
Your attorney should draft your will. It should not be a do-it-yourself project. Indeed, you must rely on your attorney to include all the important legal provisions that will ensure carrying out your objectives.
He or she will be concerned about various contingencies, the legal powers of your executor, the source of funds for paying debts, costs and taxes, possible common disasters, apportionment provisions and the exact names of all beneficiaries.
Your attorney will also make sure that your will is drafted, signed and witnessed as required by state law.
Step Four: Review Your Will
Your lawyer will probably draft your will based on present conditions, laws, asset values, planning techniques, financial needs and objectives. All these factors can and do change from time to time.
Your will must change with them. You may need a codicil (amendment), or you may need to completely rewrite your will.
To be safe, take the time at least once a year to review your will in light of your present circumstances. Ask your lawyer to look at your will every two or three years, whether or not you think you want to make changes.
State law changes, new tax pitfalls or opportunities and new financial considerations make periodic legal reviews well worthwhile.
Step Five: Safekeeping
Your skillfully drafted, up-to-date will may be meaningless unless it can be found at your death. It might be a good idea to have your attorney retain the original copy.
Or if you name a bank as executor, the bank will generally provide safekeeping in its vaults.
However you decide to safeguard your will, it is important that it can be quickly located as soon as it is needed. Always leave word with responsible people, or make a note in your personal records, as to where your will can be found.
Create a legacy. Remember VOA in your will.
For more information on Planned Giving, contact Ellen Scalzo, Director of Development at (585) 402-7218 or