The thought of preparing your last will and testament can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. These tips will help you get on the right track so you can tackle your estate planning head on and get back to living your life.
Create a list of your assets.
This list should include everything that you want to leave to a beneficiary, big or small. The large items, like your car, house and major bank accounts will be easy to remember, but don’t forget about important family heirlooms that might be packed away in storage and forgotten about.
Also, in our increasingly technology-driven world, most people also have assets held on computers or online. You should create a list of usernames and passwords for your computer, phone, tablet, bank accounts, email accounts, social media and any blogs, websites, online stores (like eBay), or PayPal accounts that you may have.
While you probably aren’t going to be “leaving” your email account to a beneficiary, you may want a family member to have access to your account so that they can delete it once you have died or check it occasionally for notices about any affairs that might not have been wrapped up.
How you choose to distribute your digital assets is entirely up to you, but creating a master list of the usernames and passwords is crucial. You can keep the list with your lawyer or in a safe in your home and give the code to your lawyer.
Double check your beneficiary information on your IRA, 401k or other retirement accounts.
Being able to name a beneficiary for your assets is a good thing. It allows your assets to pass on to the individual, trust, organization or charity you want to have them immediately after your death, without having to go through the probate process like the assets listed in your will. However, since beneficiary designations override your will, they need to be planned out carefully and updated when necessary.
If you have gotten remarried, been widowed, changed jobs or retired and haven’t gotten around to changing your beneficiary information on the accounts that allow you to name a beneficiary, do it now. If you were divorced in the recent (or not so recent) past and your ex-spouse is still named as the beneficiary on your 401k, for example, he or she is entitled to those funds.
If you have grandchildren and you want to name your children as beneficiaries on an account, make sure that the beneficiary form will allow your assets to pass “per stirpes,” or equally among branches of a family. That way, if your child dies before you, his or her share will be divided among his or her children—your grandchildren. Otherwise the share will just be split equally among the remaining beneficiaries.
If you don’t name a beneficiary for these accounts, they will automatically flow into your will and the assets will be distributed according to your will.
Choose an executor carefully.
An executor, or a personal representative, is the person who will be in charge of making sure your wishes in the will are carried out after you die. This person doesn’t have to be a legal or financial expert, but you should choose someone who you are sure will act with the highest level of honesty and impartiality. Since serving as the executor of an estate is so important, in 2012, the state of Arizona began requiring anyone serving as a personal representative to take a class on how to properly fulfill their duties.
In Arizona, if the executor wants to be paid from the estate for the tasks he or she will be completing, a “reasonable” fee is named by the executor and then submitted to the court for approval. Unlike some other states, you aren’t allowed to make the fee a percentage of the estate. For a fee, you can also choose a bank or lawyer as your executor. Some people may choose this route because they want an experienced individual who is truly impartial to oversee the distribution of their assets and wrap up their final matters, but others like the idea of having a close family member or friend complete these duties.
Get the help of an attorney.
There are websites and computer software programs available to walk you through writing your own will, and the state of Arizona recognizes handwritten, or holographic, wills, all of which may be cheaper than hiring an attorney. However,
unless you have very few assets or plan to leave your entire estate to one person, these options are usually too simplistic.
For most people, estate planning is more complex and working with an attorney is the easiest way to make sure it is done correctly. A last will and testament that was prepared quickly by someone with no experience in estate planning might lead to a family feud or your assets being tied up in an expensive lawsuit. So, while you don’t technically have to hire an estate planning lawyer to help you write your last will and testament, doing so could save your family and other heirs from costly problems down the road.
Talk to your family about your wishes.
Once your will is written, you should discuss your wishes with your family to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to how your estate will be divided. While it might not be the most fun conversation to have at a family get together, it can save your family from misunderstandings or even from battling it out in the courtroom down the road. You should also prepare a document with contact information for the attorney who handled your estate planning so that when the time comes, your family will be able to access the information they need to start the process of accessing and distributing your assets.
If you are ready to start the process of preparing your last will and testament, or if you have more questions about where you should begin, give the experienced attorneys at Dana Law Group a call. We have more than 70 years of combined experience serving families throughout Arizona. Call us today at 1-800-381-8132 or submit your question to us online.
The article above is intended for education purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney regarding your situation.