1. Why should I make a will?
A valid will is an essential part of transferring your property to the right people at the lowest cost upon your death. Your will is a written document, signed by you and at least two witnesses. A will allows you to state how you want your property distributed; name an executor to distribute your property; pay debts and taxes; name a guardian for your minor children; provide for your favorite charities; and establish trust funds. Without a will, state laws dictate how your assets are handled.
2. How do I change my will or living trust?
Never cross out a sentence or words or make notes on your will or trust. To change a provision in your will, your attorney will prepare an amendment to your will called a codicil. If many changes are desired, your attorney may draft a new will. Your attorney changes a living trust by drafting an amendment to the trust. Codicils and amendments must be signed and witnessed following the same formalities that were used in the initial signing of the will or living trust.
3. How can I leave a charitable gift in my plans?
It can be as simple as stating in your will the amount or percentage value of your estate that you want to go to a favorite charity. A charity may also be named as a beneficiary on life insurance, IRAs and other retirement plans by listing the charity on a change of beneficiary form provided by the company. You can also list charities as a full or partial beneficiary of a bank or brokerage account through Payable on Death or Transfer on Death designations. Real estate can also be transferred in some states by beneficiary deeds or by a life estate deed signed during your lifetime.
4. When should I update my will?
You should review your plan about every five years, or sooner if any of the following occurs:
• A move to another state
• Death of spouse or divorce
• Change in estate value or receiving an inheritance
• Incapacity or death of your spouse, executor, guardian, trustee or agent
• Birth of children or grandchildren
• Change in charitable giving plans
• Changes in estate and gift tax law
For more information about wills and estates, request our free estate and gift planning kit.
Terms to Know:
- Will: A written legal document that determines the distribution of your property and assets.
- Bequest: A transfer of property or cash to an individual or organization under a will.
- Testator: The individual making the will.
- Beneficiary: The recipient of a bequest from a will or a distribution from a trust, retirement plan or life insurance policy.
- Probate: The review of a will before a court to ensure that the will is authentic and the estate is distributed properly.
- Codicil: A document that amends a previously executed will.