Having a Will ensures that your net worth passes the way that you want, and it also makes probate as easy as possible for those who survive you. I’ve outlined below some things that I recommend for clients to think through. After talking through everything, I would draft the various documents and typically send by email for your review, edits, and usually more questions.
From there I would prepare the final versions of documents, and we would meet for a signing ceremony (I usually use my office staff for witnesses–witnesses do not read the documents, but they just sign under oath to confirm the process that occurred in completing the documents). Like other estate-planning lawyers, I create what are known as “self-proving” documents to make future probate as simple (and low cost) as possible.
Key decisions are:
- What specific gifts, if any, do you wish to make? Many people choose to leave everything in bulk (by percentages) to their named heirs, but sometimes there are family heirlooms or other personal items that individuals wish to leave to a designated person. You can also specify exact dollar amounts to give as specific gifts if you wish. Specific gifts are given first, then everything else that is left after specific gifts becomes the residuary estate.
- Who do you wish to designate to receive the “residuary” estate (usually the largest gift=everything remaining after specific gifts) and in what percentages?
- Who do you wish to name as the Executor of your Will / Estate? Please also name two alternate Executors.
- We’ll talk through whether you wish to create any Trusts by your will. If so, you’ll want to name a Trustee and two alternate Trustees (often those are the same people as the Executors).
- Who would you like to give a Medical Power of Attorney to authorize medical decisions to be made on your behalf in the event of your own incapacity? Would you like to name alternates as well?
- Who would you like to permit to have access to your medical information and histories (“HIPAA disclosures”)?
- Would you like to give anyone a General Financial Power of Attorney (so that he or she can act for you on any matter)? If so, I’d generally recommend that it be effective only upon your incapacity.
- Who would you like to pre-name as your personal guardian (person who cares for your body, including deciding where you would reside, and for your money) in the event of your incapacity? Please also choose two alternates.
- Do you wish to predefine burial instructions (e.g., burial plot or cremation) or do you wish to leave those decisions to your executor?
- Do you wish to make an Advance Medical Directive to apply in the event that (1) you cannot make decisions for yourself and (2) your condition is irreversible or terminal? If so, do you wish to withhold life-sustaining treatment or wish to continue life-sustaining treatments?
I talk through everything when we meet, including the difference between probate and non-probate assets and processes. If you’re ready to begin, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
and let’s get this important process started.