Do You Have a Will? You Should. No one enjoys talking about death, but it is an inevitable fate everyone will eventually face. Having your affairs in order through the drafting of a Last Will and Testament will help to ease the stress in administering your estate.
A Will is an organized document that outlines your wishes and desires for your probate assets. Your Will gives you the control to designate to who your assets are distributed from your estate upon your passing.
Before preparing a Will, you want to take inventory of your assets. It is important to consider how these things are owned (i.e. individually, jointly, tenants-in-common, etc) because this will determine how the asset can be distributed under the Will. Some assets will be considered probate assets, which means it is controlled by the Will. Other assets passing outside of the Will are considered non-probate assets. For example, assets with a designated beneficiary (i.e. IRAs, 401ks, life insurance, etc.) are non-probate assets and therefore will pass directly to the beneficiary.
The Will also names an executor. The executor is the personal representative who will be designated by letters testamentary (when a will exists) issued by the surrogate court in the county the deceased lived. An administrator is also a personal representative but is designated by letters of administration when the decedent died intestate or without a Will.
It is the executor or administrator’s responsibility to collect and evaluate the decedent’s assets, debts, taxes, expenses of administration, and any other liabilities. After payment of those liabilities, the executor will distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the Will. Therefore, it is important to choose someone as executor that you trust to ensure these duties are carried out properly. The executor does not have to be a family member, although often that is the case.
The Will should also designate guardians if you have young children. You can also appoint a Trustee to handle your minor child’s assets if not the guardian. You can even include the funeral plans you want to be followed (i.e. cremation, closed casket, etc).