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Wills: What to consider when preparing

Preparing to make final arrangements by drafting a will is important because if no will is found to exist, the probate courts will divide your estate in accordance with Florida law, which could take a considerable amount of time. Prince's estate in Minnesota is just one example of why having a will is very important, especially if there are a number of assets to distribute.

As you ponder what is involved with drafting a will, here are some things for you to consider:

1. Have an attorney draft it. While there are a number of options online, you will want to have someone who is knowledgeable of your state laws. Additionally, you will want someone who can, with confidentiality, keep track of your assets and know whether you may have forgotten to disclose some, as well as anticipate your needs. Templates are not anticipatory, nor can they offer legal advice. An attorney will be able to answer your questions along the way and can represent the heirs in the event there is an estate dispute.

2. Gather asset information. It's important to gather all information on any and all property and accounts you own such as: retirement accounts, bank accounts, real property, credit cards or other debts, investment accounts, other depository accounts (e.g. online accounts where money is stored-think Amazon or PlayStation), digital and social media accounts (especially if they generate an income), as well as any biological assets (e.g. frozen and stored embryos). As odd as it may sound, biological material is considered property.

3. Joint accounts or property will transfer without a will. Most types of assets on a will are joint checking and savings accounts and/or real property (the homestead and/or vacation property). Even if you are estranged from each other, if the bank accounts are still jointly named, the remaining balance will transfer to the spouse because they are considered the surviving owner. If an account is under just one person's name, then it can be distributed as named in the will. Real property can be a little more complex and another reason you will want to discuss your will with an attorney.

4. Selecting a guardian and/or trustee. When children are involved, it's important to carefully consider your selection in the event both you and your spouse pass away before your children are able to care for themselves. A guardian will care for them and make sure they receive the basic necessities of life, while a trustee will oversee any assets left to the children. Having two different designees will protect the children's assets, especially if they stand to inherit a large sum.

5. Beneficiary designations will impact the will. Remember all those forms you filled out when you signed up for employment benefits like life insurance, IRAs or annuities? When you completed those documents, you had to designate a beneficiary. Those designations will displace anything on the will. In other words, if your spouse is designated on your life insurance but your will disperses the asset evenly among all heirs, your spouse will be awarded the sum despite the fact you said otherwise in the will.

6. A living trust can help you avoid probate. Even though you have a will, your surviving heirs will need to go through the probate process. However, having a will makes this process flow faster. If you would like to avoid probate, placing property and assets into a living trust will do just that. Any property in the living trust will be managed by a designated trustee, which can be you until you pass or become incapacitated. Any property in the trust will be distributed in accordance to beneficiaries you designate and will supersede the will.

7. Don't forget to update your will. Once the will has been prepared, it's important to remember that things change over time, including tax laws. It is wise to meet with your attorney periodically to determine if any changes to the will should be made. Additionally, whenever you have a significant life changing event (birth or death of a family member, retirement, divorce or new marriage, etc.), you should speak with your attorney to update the will.

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