Important Things to Consider When Preparing Your Will

A well-crafted will is the foundation of a good estate plan.

Signing Last Will and Testament.
By SHARE

In today's world, it's also essential to consider things that aren't traditional properties, such as digital and biological assets. Digital assets don't just include online bank accounts but possibly domain names or social media accounts that generate money. For parents who conceived children through fertility treatment, leftover frozen embryos may come into play. "You might not think [a frozen embryo] is property, but it actually is and that comes as a big surprise to people," Prangley says.

Once you've compiled the asset information, don't put everything in a safe deposit box that no one else has access to. "It's a real pain for your family to go to the court and have the box legally drilled open, and it's also a huge time delay," says Donnelly.

3. Joint property with a spouse falls outside the will. One type of ownership is joint property, often real estate and bank accounts shared by spouses. These wouldn't be distributed by the terms of one person's will; rather, they are passed to the surviving owner by operation of the law, High says. However, if an account is just under one person's name, it's passed through a will.

[See What You Need to Know About Estate Planning]

Property is also distributed by a will if it falls under what's known as tenancy in common, which takes place when owners own a percentage of an asset, says High. For example, if someone owned a property with their siblings by tenancy in common, that person's percentage of the property wouldn't automatically go to their surviving siblings but would rather be passed on according to their will.

4. Be careful in selecting guardians and trustees. If you have children, naming their legal guardians in the event of your death is a crucial part of the will process.

High advises clients not to select the same person to be both the legal guardian and the trustee—the person in charge of the child's assets. "You don't want to have one person in charge of everything," High says.

If your children are older and don't require a trustee, it may be wise to suggest they seek out a financial planner. "People need to be aware of who they're willing assets to," says Rodd Miller, a certified financial planner and president of Miller Wealth Management in Carlsbad, Calif. "People who aren't used to having money that now have a couple extra zeroes added to their bank account may not know how to handle it. If you're not accustomed to dealing with investments and a large amount of money, you don't want to make a swift [investment] without looking at all of your options."

5. Beneficiary designations override wills. A number of accounts, such as IRAs, life insurance, and annuities, don't pass through probate. Instead, the owners name beneficiaries who will receive the funds through a separate document called a beneficiary designation. These beneficiary designations supersede anything specified in the will. Therefore, you should review your beneficiary designations with the estate lawyer when planning the will.

The final step: After the will is created, High suggests meeting with your estate lawyer every five years, as tax laws change frequently. Any time you encounter a significant life change—the birth of a child, a death in the family that impacts you financially, a milestone (such as retirement)—is also a good time to review your will.