Everyone’s approach to will writing is a little bit different. This makes sense, because we each have a different communication style, personal assets, and all kinds of friends and family we’d like to leave things to.
But a will is about more than things. It’s the record of all your final wishes and a way for you to wrap up your affairs even if you didn’t get the chance to finish up before death.
A will can be long or short, simple or complex, and can even be written by hand in some states if you prefer the personal touch. Whether you leave everything to a single inheritor or lovingly enumerate each item for a special family member, there are a few universal tips we can offer to ensure your wishes are completely respected.
Here at Port Legal, we have worked on many wills and have put together our top three tips for planning your own rock-solid will:
1) Don’t Forget to Select an Alternate Executor
Most people know exactly who they want as their will executor. This is usually a close friend or family member or possibly a trusted lawyer you have worked with for a long time.
Your executor is in charge of ensuring that all your final wishes are respected, wrapping up your finances and personal affairs, and finally distributing any property that was held in the probate process, unless you also have a living trust.
No doubt you have a name in mind, but what if for some reason they can’t fulfill your duties when they’re called on? Whether they’re out of the country, have the flu, or are simply too distraught to manage, you need to clearly designate an alternate executor who can take over in their stead. Otherwise, the court may assign someone you would object to.
2) Make Sure Your Will is Legally Valid
You might be surprised how many people have a clearly written will but have forgotten to go through the process of legally validating their will.
Often your will can still be used no matter the condition, but you run the risk of creating an unnecessary hassle for your executor.
Additionally, you can put your family in a precarious position if anyone chooses to contest your will.
For a valid Ohio will, you need:
- To be of legal age of 18
- Clear statement that the document is your will
- To be of sound mind – usually not a problem unless there’s proof otherwise
- Your Signature
- 2 Witnesses who do not inherit must sign it (3 in Vermont)
The last item is the one most usually forget.
Once you’re sure your will is legally valid, you can save your executor a few more headaches by asking them to go over the document with you.
Explain your wishes as they relate to what you wrote down and answer any questions they may have. This will help them enact your wishes exactly as you intended should they be called to do so.
3) Keep an Asset Inventory Sheet
Finally, keep an inventory sheet of all assets you have full or partial ownership of. This is most easily done by using an estate planning worksheet that includes a section for assets but you can also make your own tracking document at home.
Make sure to list everything you own along with a brief description of it so there is no confusion when it comes to identifying and distribution.
Specifically, list all your items of real value like jewelry, expensive equipment, vehicles, property, and your home.
Make a note of the current market value of each item along with anything you’re still paying off and your current percentage of ownership. You should also note whether or not each item is owned ‘jointly’ with a spouse or partner or ‘separate property’ that belongs only to you.
A Few Final Thoughts on Wills
Writing a will or creating a trust is your final opportunity to make life easier for your loved ones when you pass away. Through these documents you can ensure that wrapping up your life’s affairs is as smooth and painless for your family as possible so they can grieve and recover without the hassle of a difficult estate management.