While most of us don’t like thinking about our mortality or planning for it, creating a will is one of the most important things we can do to help our loved ones. It can help to prevent unnecessary stress, legal headaches, and court delays, allowing your family to mourn in peace without dealing with things that could be prevented by having a will in place.
Here are five helpful tips that could help you better understand the will creation and execution processes. Following these points can help you feel better prepared and more informed when it comes to this critical topic.
1. Your Will May Need to be Updated Periodically
While it may be tempting to think of a will as something set in stone, it may not be wise to let a will sit for years without taking the time to re-examine and reconsider its details from time to time. Nothing in life tends to be constant, and things change all the time. For example, you could have a new grandchild born into the family, or experience a divorce. You might also sell your home and move somewhere new, or choose to give some of the items listed in your will away to loved ones or charity.
If you had younger children when you wrote your will, they will eventually grow up and live on their own, negating the need to designate a legal guardian. However, if you have any other dependents such as a disabled relative, they may still need someone to care for them.
In cases like these, you will want to update your will to ensure it reflects the current realities of your life and relationships. In general, estate planners tend to recommend that you update your testament once every two to three years to be on the safe side.
2. Your Will Could be Contested When Executed
When a will is contested, someone challenges the legal validity of something in the will, or the will itself. For example, if one of your beneficiaries feels wronged by something in the will, they may decide to raise a legal challenge and contest it. Another example is a spouse or child who believes that the will violates an estate law. They may choose to challenge it on those legal grounds rather than on emotional ones.
Several other things could potentially cause a will to be contested. For instance, if not witnessed legally or if you were not aware of what you were doing when you signed it, the will could be challenged.
In these cases, a probate judge will either rule in favor of the will or support the contestation. As with most legal claims, the key to a successful contestation of a will is finding a legitimate legal flaw in it or fault in the way it was written or executed. One way you can help to prevent this is by working with an estate lawyer when you create your will, as they may be able to help you foresee any potential legal challenges that may arise and work to prevent them by writing a proper will.
3. Store Your Will in a Safe, Yet Accessible Location
For a will to be executed, the court will generally require the original document. If your will is lost or stored in a safety deposit box at your bank that only you can access, then it will not be available for execution when it is needed. In the case of the safety deposit box, your family would need to get a court order to open the box, which will add complexity and delays to an already emotionally stressful situation.
A better alternative would be to store the will in a fireproof and waterproof safe in your home and to make sure that your executor knows the location of the key or the key code to access the safe. That way, when your will is needed in court, it will be readily available.
4. A “Letter of Instruction” Can Help Clarify Your Wishes
While you will leave specific items to individual beneficiaries in your will, some details can be challenging to understand. Perhaps the will only designates the main large items, or maybe there wasn’t room in the will for an adequate description of what you intended.
A Letter of Instruction is a more informally written document which you can include alongside your will to help those who execute it understand what you meant. The document won’t have to use legalese language that feels less relatable and harder to understand. This preparation can help alleviate some of the stress associated with executing an estate and help your loved ones feel comforted, all the while answering potential questions that might arise at the execution of your estate.
A Letter of Instruction can contain useful and essential details such as account numbers, usernames, and passwords, which would be necessary to execute the estate but not included in the document itself.
In some states, a Letter of Instruction is legally binding, while in others, it is considered more of a helpful suggestion. Your estate lawyer can help you understand how the Letter of Instruction works in your particular area.
5. Empower Your Executor to Deal with Debts and Bills
One aspect of leaving a will that might be easy to neglect is the need to deal with outstanding debts and bills after the time of your passing. This is a less glamorous and rather unsentimental aspect of estate execution but is just as necessary. It is important to detail how your debts and bills should be handled and provide the proper authority to do so. This planning can potentially prevent debtors from claiming assets from your beneficiaries and using them to settle debts.
These tips cover a handful of examples of things that are important when executing an estate or leaving a will. Hopefully, you will find these tips helpful in your estate planning process. If you have any suggestions of your own to share with others, feel free to share them in the comments below!