How to Create a Last Will and Testament

Learn why you need a Last Will and Testament and the steps to develop one

Creating a Last Will and Testament is an important step for anyone even if you don’t have substantial assets. Having one in place ensures that your wishes are carried out and, in the event of your death, causes less strain on your loved ones.

While it is imperative to discuss a Last Will and Testament with an attorney, there are steps you can take on your own to help you prepare for your meeting.

1. Determine your assets

The first step is figuring out everything you have to leave behind. Once you determine the value of your home, your investments (including retirement plans, life insurance death benefits, and all other assets), you may be surprised how much your estate is worth. That’s why it’s important to do this first.

2. Designate an executor and beneficiaries

You’ll need to choose someone to manage and distribute your estate once you’re gone; this person is known as an executor. This could be a family member, a trusted friend, or a professional.

Determine who your beneficiaries are and decide how you wish to divide your estate amongst your heirs. Remember that you’ll already have designated beneficiaries in accounts like your retirement plans, life insurance, and payable on death accounts. These are known as non-probate assets and fall outside the purview of the Will so make sure they are taken into consideration when determining distributions in your Last Will and Testament.

3. Assign guardians for your children

If you have children who are minors, choose who their guardians would be in the event both you and your spouse die before they reach the age of majority. The court will decide this for you if you do not make this designation in your Last Will.

4. Write the Last Will and Testament

After you have the above information, it’s time to start writing your Last Will and Testament. It’s imperative that an experienced estate planning attorney handle the language for you so nothing is left to chance.

After the Will is written, you’ll need to sign it in front of a notary and two witnesses to make it official.

Why it’s important to have a Last Will and Testament

Having a Last Will and Testament in place will ease the burden on your loved ones and ensure your assets are distributed as you wanted. If you die with no Last Will and Testament, you are considered to have died intestate. Each state has its own intestacy statutes they follow when deciding how to distribute the assets. Unfortunately, intestacy distributions often don’t reflect what the testator would have wanted – think disinheritance, blended families, disabled, spendthrift, or drug addicted heirs.

Consider setting up a trust

Creating a Last Will and Testament is important. However, you may also want to consider setting up a trust for your assets. A trust may be designed for a number of purposes including, but not limited to: estate tax planning, Medicaid planning, disability planning, or second marriage planning.

A trust may also allow your estate to avoid probate and help your beneficiaries manage the estate distribution process. In the event of a revocable trust, a successor trustee may be appointed to manage trust assets if you are no longer able to do so or upon your death.

To create a Last Will and Testament or discuss all aspects of your estate planning strategy, contact our team at NJ Elder Law Center. We assist clients with Will and trust drafting, trustee and executor services, as well as estate administration and elder law services.

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