What’s in your will?
It may not be something we went to think about, but preparing a will is important. A will is a binding, legal document that gives you the opportunity to ensure that your assets and belongings are allocated the way you want them to be, rather than arbitrarily divided up between your legal heirs based on the laws of the state or province in which you live.
If you have children under the age of 18, a will allows you to name the person you want to care for those children if they are not yet legal adults at the time of your passing.
Perhaps most importantly, a will ensures that your personal wishes regarding your estate will be carried out in a timely manner so that your loved ones can be taken care of as soon as possible after you’re gone.
What should go in a will?
Specific details. Don’t just say, “my house” or “my child.” List addresses and full names so there is never any doubt about what or to whom you’re referring.
Asset distribution instructions. Obviously you will include significant assets like your home, cars, and any other real estate you own, but your will is also a place to list cherished keepsakes that you want to pass on. That might include things of value such as jewelry, art and antiques, but it could also include sentimental items like photographs, handmade items and other cherished family heirlooms.
Note that real estate assets that are jointly owned cannot be named in an individual will. Those assets automatically revert to the other joint owner.1
A list of beneficiaries. These can be people, charities and organizations that you want to leave money or specific items to. Your beneficiaries are given a percentage of your estate (that you have predetermined), and any additional items that you have specified. Once again, make sure to include full names and complete contact detail to ensure that your gifts go to the correct person or organization.
Funeral instructions. Settling an estate, which involves reading the will, doesn’t typically happen until after a funeral, so make sure that if you have any specific requests as far as funeral arrangements go, you tell your loved ones in advance. You can also create a separate document outlining your wishes and leave it with the executor of your estate.
What should not go in a will
Money for your pets. Your cat or dog may feel like family to you, but they are not legally allowed to own property. Instead, ask a trusted person to care for your pet in the event of your death, and leave money to that person, instead of the animal, to provide for its care.
Certain conditions. Conditions that include marriage, divorce or the change of the recipient’s religion can’t be provisions in a legal will, nor can conditions that involve illegal activities.2 In fact, even legal conditions (like allocating money to someone on the condition that they finish college, for example) can be complicated. Who is responsible for enforcing such conditions, and does the person left to enforce them receive any sort of fee for managing the condition? Wanting to motivate someone to reach certain goals is noble, but there may be better ways to do this while you’re alive rather than putting conditions on your financial support after you’re gone.
Estate laws can be quirky and vary from state to state and country to country. It’s best to consult a legal professional when creating your will to ensure that your wishes are carried out exactly as you want them.
416163B CAN/US (05/18)