Less than half of adults in the United States report having estate planning documents that include a will. If you haven’t yet begun to explore preparing one, the impact of foregoing this step could be significant for loved ones left behind. Below, we go over five of the most important elements to be mindful of with will preparation.
1. Being of Legal Age to Draft a Will
As most estate planning lawyers will tell you, there’s nothing wrong with getting started as early as possible with estate planning, including a will. That said, one of the key elements of a will is that the will creator, often referred to as the testator, must be at least 18 years of age. However, there are limited exceptions to the age requirement. For instance, a child may have been awarded a significant settlement in a disability case. Still, any minor exploring will-drafting options must have “testamentary capacity.” In other words, they must understand what a will is. It may also be necessary to submit an application to the court for a minor to be able to have a legal will prepared.
2. Being of ‘Sound Mind’
Next. you must state in writing that you are “of sound mind” when drafting a will. Otherwise, your will may be challenged if a loved one questions the decisions you made with asset allocations. An estate planning attorney is typically able to draft a will that’s likely to remain valid when you pass by ensuring the declaration of your soundness of mind is included and phrased correctly.
3. Covering All Asset and (if Applicable) Guardianship Bases
At the very least, a will needs to have a provision for the allocation of your estate. This includes all significant and important assets you own and want to pass along to others in one way or another. You generally have a lot of leeway with this part of the will drafting process when it comes to who gets what. For example, you could leave certain assets to a favorite charity or group of charities and divide what remains among your loved ones.
You’ll also have the option to be as specific or general as you wish with asset allocation. For instance, you might leave “all furnishings and personal belongings in the home” to an adult son or daughter; or you could be more specific about which things go to which family members or loved ones – e.g., “to my niece Gloria, I leave my gold earrings and matching necklace…”
Also, if you have children under the age of 18, a guardianship provision is another important element to include. This is where you’ll name a personal guardian for your children should something happen to you when they’re still minors. An estate planning lawyer may advise you to confirm that your preferred guardian is willing to accept this responsibility.
4. Appointing an Executor
Sometimes referred to as your “personal representative,” the executor is the person who will carry out your wishes when you pass. Their expected duties will typically include collecting your assets, paying any remaining debts or expenses, and distributing the remaining assets as per your wishes to your beneficiaries.
Additionally, the court must accept the will and formally appoint the executor. If necessary, such as if the named executor has passed away or is incapacitated, the court will appoint a representative.
5. Having a Legal Signature and Declaring the Will
The signature on your will needs to be legally recognized if it’s not written in your own handwriting. Therefore, if the will is typed out, the signature on the document needs to be witnessed or notarized to confirm its authenticity. Lastly, you’ll need to sign a statement declaring that the will is your valid will.
If you’re ready to get started with the will preparation process, an estate planning lawyer from The Knee Law Firm in Hackensack, New Jersey, is ready to help. Contact us online or call our office today at (201) 996-1200 to set up an appointment.