Regardless of your age, marital status, or the size of your estate, you need to have at least a basic estate plan in place. For most people, creating an estate plan begins with executing a Last Will and Testament. Given the fact that your Will is likely to be one of the most important documents you will create during your lifetime you should spend as much time as necessary making decisions relating to the provisions in your Will. The best way to ensure that your Last Will and Testament reflects your wishes, is drafted correctly, and executed properly is to work closely with an experienced Florida estate planning attorney. One thing you can do now, however, is to create a checklist for planning a Will that will help your estate planning attorney better understand your needs and wishes. Toward that end, consider the following list of things you should do, lists you should compile, and decisions you should make when planning a Will:
- Make a list of estate assets. Like most people, you undoubtedly have a general idea of what your net worth is; however, when was the last time you sat down and actually made a list of all your assets? A year? 10 years? Never? Most people have never actually made a list of all their assets. If you do not have a current list, you need to make one. Remember, your estate assets include both real and personal property as well as tangible and intangible assets. Anything in which you have even the smallest ownership interest should be included in your list.
- Make a list of your current and likely future debts. Like your estate assets, you probably also have a good idea of what your overall debts are; however, you need to be specific when you sit down to create your Will. Moreover, your current debts are only part of the puzzle. You should also take the time to consider debts you know your loved ones will incur in the future, such as college expenses.
- Calculate. Now it’s time to run some calculations. Determine an overall value for all your assets and one for all your debts. Subtract the debts from the assets to determine your estate’s current net worth. Not only is this relevant for making decisions regarding gifts to beneficiaries but it will also let you know if your estate will incur, or is close to incurring, federal gift and estate taxes.
- Decide who your beneficiaries will be. This one should be relatively easy — just write down everyone you wish to inherit from your estate.
- Consider how much each beneficiary needs. Take some time to figure out, for example, how much your spouse will truly need following your death. The same applies to any other beneficiary who is at least partially dependent on you financially.
- Make a list of sentimental or personal items. Your Will is where you will make specific bequests to beneficiaries. These might include family heirlooms and/or sentimental items that have sentimental or personal value to you.
- Decide to whom you wish to gift those specific items. Decide to whom you wish to gift those sentimental and personal items because your Last Will and Testament is precisely where you will have the opportunity to make specific gifts.
- Make a list of charities or philanthropic gifts you want to make. This may be a long list of causes or may only include your church.
- Consider options for the Executor. The Executor of your estate is responsible for overseeing the entire probate process. As such, your Executor can significantly help, or hinder, the probate of your estate. For this reason, you should take as much time as you need to contemplate the appointment instead of simply appointing a spouse despite his/her lack of experience and expertise in probate matters.
- Consider who to appoint as Guardian of your minor children, if applicable. One thing many people do not know is that your Last Will and Testament is the only option you have for letting a court know who you would appoint to be your child’s Guardian if one is needed.
For additional information, please join us for one of our upcoming free seminars. If you have additional questions about planning a Will, or estate planning in general, in the State of North Carolina please contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Kulas & Crawford. by calling 772-398-0720 to schedule an appointment.