How Do I Write a Will?
You should get the basic estate planning documents in order and revisit them regularly. Everyone should have a will, but it’s only one of several significant estate planning documents in a comprehensive plan.
US News’ recent article entitled “10 Steps to Writing a Will” says that many of a typical household’s assets, such as retirement accounts, can be transferred outside of a will by naming beneficiaries. Documents, like financial and medical powers of attorney, can also be more powerful in determining the outcome of an estate.
Find an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney. Most situations will require an estate planning attorney, especially when you have a large estate, a blended family, or other complex situations. The best kind of attorney, in my opinion, is an attorney that is Board Certified in Estate Planning and/or Board Certified in Taxation. That kind of attorney will best know how to write your will pursuant to your instructions.
Select Beneficiaries. A common mistake people make when planning their estate is failing to name or update beneficiaries on key accounts that work with the plans outlined in their wills. The beneficiary listed on bank accounts, life insurance and other financial accounts will have control over the will.
Choose the Executor. The executor of your will has the task of carrying out your wishes detailed in the will.
Choose a Guardian (Tutor) for Your Minor Children. If you have minor children, you must designate a tutor (guardian) in your will. That way you can name the person you want to care for your children, in the event you die while they are yet minors.
Be Specific About Who Gets What. One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a will may be deciding which assets to include and determining who will receive what. Consider the types of assets being allocated to heirs to help with decision-making and management.
Be Clear About Who Gets What. Think practically about how your property will be distributed. A big reason children stop speaking after a parent’s death is because there’s boilerplate language directing tangible assets, such as artwork, collectibles, or jewelry, to be divided equally among children. When you write your will, keep this in mind.
Attach a Letter. You can attach an explanatory letter to your will. This letter may provide additional detail about certain wishes. This is also called a “Letter of Last Instruction.”
Sign the Will Properly. If you fail to execute your will properly, it may result in the document being deemed invalid. Louisiana has very specific requirements to execute a last will and testament; they must be in a particular form. It is not uncommon that will forms obtained from the internet are not effective under Louisiana law. An experienced estate planning attorney will know precisely what is required as far as witnesses and notarization and how to write your will in this state.
Find a Place for Your Will. Inform a person you trust about the location of your will as well as any other important legal papers and passwords to financial institutions. In addition, it’s wise to store the original copy somewhere secure, such as in a fireproof safe.
Review and Update Your Will. A will should be updated every few years.
If you want to write a will and don’t want to consult with an attorney, in Louisiana you are permitted to execute an “olographic will”. This will must be entirely handwritten in your handwriting (not typed and not in someone else’s handwriting) as well as signed and dated. Keep in mind that do-it-yourself estate planning is not a good idea. But for people of modest means, an olographic will may be the only option.
To learn more, read these articles: Does a Married Couple without Children Need a Will? and Do You Have to Do Probate when Someone Dies? and Is a Handwritten Will a Smart Idea? and What is Louisiana Forced Heirship?
Reference: US News (May 31, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”
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