8 Things to Include in Your Will

Many Americans over the age of 45 do not have a will, the main reason being it is unpleasant, even depressing to imagine, well, being dead, and what exactly you want done with all of your stuff after you have passed. On top of that, even if you don’t have a large estate or family, determining what to and what not to include in a will can be a truly confusing process. Below are eight important things that should be included in a will. We suggest you also take time to investigate the benefits of having a revocable living trust.

  1. An executor:

    In your will, name an executor, or what some states refer to as a personal representative, for your estate. That person will file an application with the probate court for the official authority to act on behalf of your estate. The executor is responsible for sending out formal notices of your death to heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors, publishing a notice of your death in the local newspaper, preparing an appraised inventory of your assets, and properly distributing the assets as determined by your will and the probate process.

  2. A guardian:

    If you have children under 18, your spouse or ex-spouse will become the sole parent when you die. If your spouse has passed, you need to name a guardian for your child or children. Otherwise, that decision will be made by a probate judge. If you believe your ex-spouse is unfit to parent, write a letter to be kept with your will that states why you believe this to be true and who you prefer be the guardian of your kids. Your letter won’t be legally binding, but it will make the court aware of potential problems.

  3. Names of beneficiaries:

    Any asset you own jointly, with your spouse, children, siblings, or others, will automatically pass, outside of probate, to the surviving owner or owners. But in order to pass along any assets that you solely own, you will need to name the beneficiaries in your will. Clearly define the asset and clearly name the beneficiary by their name. “My grandchildren” is acceptable, but “My grandchildren, Bill, Sally, and Fred” is better.

  4. Sentimental items:

    Don’t forget to include sentimental items, such as jewelry, rare books, photos, or pieces of art in your will. Any items that are yours and yours alone can be passed along to whoever you like, so long as you specify in your will who is to receive what. Be very specific. “My favorite necklace to my favorite niece” is a little vague, and could cause confusion and anger among your survivors. Consider adding a residuary clause to your will if you’d like any assets you haven’t listed to transfer to a specific beneficiary.

  5. Testamentary trust:

    A testamentary trust is usually created in a will in order to assure that assets, especially money, left to a minor child will be managed by an adult. The trust asset or property should be clearly defined, with trustees named and their powers spelled out. Unlike a living trust, assets named in a testamentary trust are subject to the probate process.

  6. How debts, expenses, and taxes should be paid:

    You can spell out in your will how any of your remaining debts, unpaid taxes, and probate costs, as well as funeral and other expenses, should be paid. Usually funds in a specific bank account are flagged to cover these kinds of costs.

  7. Pets:

    If you have a pet you love, you should name the person in your will who has agreed to take care of it in the event of your death. Some people even set aside money to help cover the costs of taking care of their pet. You might also consider creating a trust for your pet, which may offer more detailed and binding instructions for the care of your pet after you have passed. The Humane Society offers guidelines as to how to provide for your pet after you’ve died.

  8. Attestation clause:

    An attestation clause at the end of your will shows that you have complied with all of the legal requirements related to the signing and witnessing of your will. Including this clause can help speed up the process of probating and confirming the validity of your will.