One of the most important legal activities each of us faces is deciding how, after our death, our assets will be used and who will benefit from them. Estate planning and the writing of a will is a deeply meaningful way to make a powerful statement with these assets. However, a great number of people die “intestate” (without a will). When that happens the state or others decide for us where and how the estate will be distributed. If your preferences have not been clearly stated in a will, then it is likely that those preferences will not be carried out. It is, therefore, vital that you have a will. It is a wonderful way of expressing your love to the people and organizations you cherish. It is a way to take control of your assets, and make a positive statement.
Guidelines to Consider When Writing a Will
There are four “P’s” of estate planning:
- People: Consider all the people who are important to you and for whom you’d like to provide. This might include your spouse, children, relatives and friends.
- Property: Consider all property that you own including bank accounts, real estate, stocks, bonds, life insurance, pension plans and personal property.
- Plans: Ask yourself how you’d like to provide for the people in your life, and how you can make this happen. Will the people who are important to you be provided for in the future? Will you have enough income to manage during your retirement years?
- Planners: Who are the people who will help you with your financial goals? Consider attorneys, accountants, bank trust officers, stock brokers and insurance agents to help you meet your financial goals.
Tips on Naming Beneficiaries
- Understand the limits of a will.
- Know when beneficiaries are required.
- Decide who gets what.
- Don’t name your estate as a beneficiary.
- Don’t name minor children as beneficiaries.
- Consider setting up a trust.
- Think about tax ramifications.
- Name contingent beneficiaries.
- Keep everything up-to-date.
- Make copies.
Q: I don’t have a will, where do I start?
A: As a will is a legal document, it is strongly recommended that you consult your solicitor.
Q: What about home-made wills?
A: Home-made wills can be disastrous. You may omit particularly important details, or inadvertently write sections in a way that can be misinterpreted. Making a will with the help of your solicitor is the only way you can be sure that your wishes will be followed after you die. By drafting a will with a professional, you will save your family a lot of extra worry.
Q: What can I include in my will?
A: Wills aren’t solely about passing on your assets. You can also include specific funeral arrangements: for instance, burial, cremation, or the use of your body for medical research. You may also want to appoint legal guardians to care for your children if you and your partner should die before they are 18.
Q: Who do I appoint as Executors?
A: One other important consideration when writing your will is the appointment of your Executors – the people who deal with your estate in the event of your death. Ideally, these should be business-minded family or friends or professional advisers.
Glossary of Terms
Administrators. Those appointed to administer an estate where there is no will or no executor.
Bequest. Same as “Legacy”.
Beneficiary. A named individual or organisation who benefits from your Will.
Codicil. A document making minor changes to your Will. Must be signed and witnessed in the same manner as your Will.
Crown. This means the Treasury, where your money will go if you have no next of kin and did not make a will.
Estate. Everything belonging to you, and owed to you, at the time of your death.
Executors. Referred to in your Will as trustees. These are the people you appoint to deal with all your affairs after your death.
Guardians. Those you appoint to care for your children until they reach the age of eighteen years.
Intestacy. A person is said to die intestate if he dies without making a valid Will.
Pecuniary. Legacy Specific sum of money given by a Will.
Probate. A procedure, required under law in most cases, to establish formally whether you left a legally valid Will and who your executors will be.
Residuary Legacy. The residue of an estate, or a share in it.
Residue. The remains of your estate after payment of all debts, expenses, tax and distribution of pecuniary and specific legacies
Specific Legacy. A tangible item, such as a gold watch or an engagement ring.
Testator. The person making the Will.