As an attorney, friends often ask me for tips in drafting a will. I always warn them to take great care in writing a will, because a will is often the last memory their families will have of them. The following tips will help to ease the pain and financial transition that results from the death of a beloved family member:
*Be Specific to Prevent Family Quarrels
Black’s Law Dictionary defines a will as “A document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death.” This more than a definition: it is good advice. You should clearly set forth the distribution of each asset you own within your will, including emotionally significant assets. After a funeral, many families argue bitterly over the distribution of meaningful personal items as well as financial sums. Pictures, photo albums, and other personal items should be listed in your will to prevent future bickering. This ensures your will fosters family unity.
Realize that each state has its own laws governing wills, and that the law can differ dramatically from state to state. If you move, you will probably want to create a new will. California, for example, requires that a certain amount of property be left to the surviving spouse. If you move to California from another state, and your will doesn’t comply with California’s rules regarding wills, a court might permit your will to be thrown out.
*Find a Specialty Attorney
It’s best, if you can afford it, to find an attorney that specializes in writing wills, especially if you have substantial assets or have had children with more than one person. You can find a list of attorneys that specialize in writing wills at Martindale.com. Type the name of your place of residence in the search bar. Then click on “Show All” beneath the “Practice Areas” list and select “Wills.”
*Find Free or Low-Cost Legal Assistance
At hundreds of dollars an hour, not everybody can afford an expensive attorney. You may be surprised to learn that law schools and bar associations often offer free legal clinics. Many are open to the community. Also, many legal referral services are required to provide legal services at a reduced price.
*Using Computer Generated Wills
As long as you have relatively modest assets and do not have a complicated family situation such as mutiple divorces or children from different relationships, you will probably find a computer generated will meets your needs. Software for making a will is very reasonably priced, and is no harder to use than tax software. As noted, be certain to purchase will making software appropriate for your state.
*Discuss the Will
If you intend to leave certain assets to members of your family, discuss it with them. People have willed a beloved pet to an adult child, only to find that the child’s spouse is allergic to the pet. Likewise, if you intend to give an adult child a house, make certain the child is prepared to move.