Like most people, you know you need to create and execute a Last Will and Testament. In fact, you have been meaning to get to it for some time now. You have just been too busy, or you keep forgetting, or you don’t have everything handy that you need to get the job done. In short, you keep finding an excuse not to create your Will when in reality, the whole idea may just be a little intimidating. Rest assured, you are not alone. Despite knowing the importance of having an estate plan in place, almost half of all Americans do not. Many of them give a similar reason to yours for not having an estate plan — they just don’t know where to start. As is the case when you undertake other endeavors in life, planning is the key to successfully creating a Last Will and Testament. If you are planning a Will, ask yourself the following questions and use the answers to help create your Will:
• Will your Last Will and Testament be your primary method of distributing your estate? This should be your first consideration when creating your Will. Although most people use a Last Will and Testament as the foundation of their estate plan, many people actually use a trust to direct the disposition of their estate assets after their death. There are a number of reasons why a trust may be preferable as the vehicle of distribution, including:
1. Trust assets bypass probate, making them available to the beneficiaries soon after your death.
2. The terms of a trust are private whereas a Will is available to the public once filed with the probate court.
3. If you have minor children they cannot inherit directly from your estate, making a trust essential.
• Who will you appoint as the Executor of your estate? People frequently make the mistake of simply appointing a spouse, adult child, or parent s the Executor of their estate without giving the appointment any real thought. The Executor of your estate, however, is responsible for administering your estate and overseeing the entire probate process. The numerous duties and responsibilities of an Executor mean your choice can significantly contribute to an efficient and relatively inexpensive probate process or an inefficient and costly probate process.
• Do you wish your Executor to have to post a bond and/or be supervised? As the Testator, you have the ability to waive the bond your Executor would otherwise be required to post. In addition, in many states there are two types of formal probate — supervised and unsupervised. Supervised means that the court oversees the entire process and the Executor must get permission for major steps along the probate of the estate. You need to decide if you feel the court should supervise your Executor and whether or not you feel a bond should be posted.
• Who will be your beneficiaries? This may seem like an obvious, and easy to answer, question; however, most people find it is not as easy as they thought once they really think about it. True, there will be some obvious choices, such as a spouse, children, and parents, but you may also have promised a favorite niece your Barbie doll collection or planned to give a favorite piece of jewelry to a best friend. There may also be charities to which you wish to leave gifts. All of these beneficiaries must be remembered before you get started.
• What specific bequests do you wish to make? This can be a very short list, or an extremely lengthy list. Some people basically direct the Executor to sell all the assets and split to proceeds according to the terms of the Will; however, others want to make sure that family heirlooms and/or sentimental items wind up in the right hands.
• How do you wish to distribute your estate? Unless you plan to give away your entire estate with specific bequests you need to decide how you plan to distribute the balance of your estate among the beneficiaries.
• Who do you wish to name as Guardian for your minor children? Yet another hidden decision in your Last Will and Testament that many people are unaware of is the ability to nominate a Guardian for minor children. In fact, your Will is the only chance you have to tell a judge who you would appoint as Guardian if one was ever needed.
If you have additional questions or concerns about planning a Will, contact the experienced Illinois estate planning attorneys at Nash Bean Ford & Brown, LLP by calling 309-944-2188 to schedule your appointment today.