If you are just starting the estate planning process, then you probably do not have a lot of experience with the documents and processes that go into creating a fully realized estate plan. That is all right, and it is true of most people, but the first step is getting educated about the basic instruments that go into the process. The most well-known is an individual's will.
Wills can vary quite a bit because they are very personal documents that detail your instructions for the disposition of your assets and the care needed for your dependents. That can make setting one up daunting if you are a first-timer, though, because it can leave you wondering where to start. This guide is designed to make that easier.
Core elements for your will
There are a few elements that every will needs, regardless of how large or small the estate is, and you should start organizing yours by taking these steps:
- Determine your estate's executor. Usually, this is someone who is a trusted neutral party, such as a lawyer or a family friend. It can also be a trusted family member if conflict is not likely.
- Provide a list of assets and who will inherit each of them. This is the most commonly understood part of the will.
- Create a list of people being disinherited and any reasons why. While this is technically optional, it is strongly advised whenever people are going to be disinherited.
- Provide information regarding care for any pets or minor children.
Expanding your will
Beyond those core items, wills can contain any number of additional pieces and provisions, including special instructions and conditions for the release of an inheritance, personal messages to family and friends, and other steps that ensure your wishes are followed. It is just a matter of understanding what to ask your lawyer to do, and that is usually best accomplished by communicating your goals.
Moving forward with estate planning
After you complete your will, the next step is to move through any other estate planning documents that you need to support it. For some people, that might mean a living will or a medical power of attorney document. For others, it could involve setting up a trust to help handle your assets. Everyone's estate is different, but the right estate planning attorney will be able to give you the advice you need to finish the process. Make sure to contact one right away when you are ready to start planning your estate.