By: Donna M. Stefans, Esq. AIF®
A Last Will and Testament is often the centerpiece of an individual’s estate plan. Very simply, the Last Will and Testament (hereinafter “will”) is a legally recognized document where you set out how your assets should be distributed and how your dependents should be cared for after your death.
It is always beneficial to have a properly drafted and executed will. If you die without one, the state dictates how and when your property will be distributed after your death.
Additionally, a will can and should be changed as your circumstances and preferences change. The best way to ensure that your will and other estate planning documents are valid under the law is to seek the counsel of a qualified, estate planning attorney. At Stefans Law Group PC, our estate planning attorneys take the time to understand your personal financial and family circumstances, and ultimate goals. We can also properly execute and make changes to your estate planning documents to ensure that they are always aligned with your current circumstances.
Though a will provides a person with control over how and to whom his or her property shall be distributed after death, a will can also properly address a multitude of other matters, such as:
- Identifying who will inherit your estate. You decide and name who is to get your assets and who will not get your assets. Though normally you can disinherit a child, your surviving spouse has a legal right to inherit a portion of your property, and you cannot do away with this right easily in your will.
- Making Specific Bequests. You can give certain items of sentimental value to certain individuals or make certain donations to charities or religious institutions of your choice.
- Naming guardians for your minor children. Your will can and should appoint a guardian to care for minor children in case both legal guardians or parents are deceased before the minor(s) reach age 18. You can also appoint a guardian for any children with special needs and/or who will be unable to care for themselves in adulthood. A guardian is asked to raise your children until they reach maturity. If your children are young, consider naming alternate guardians who can step in if your primary guardian dies or becomes disabled.
- Creating a trust if any minors will be inheriting your assets. A trust specifies the age at which or circumstances under which a minor child will receive his or her inheritance. It also appoints a trustee to manage that inheritance until the child lawfully takes possession. These trusts are particularly useful for distributing assets to children and grandchildren.
- Choosing an “executor.” The executor will manage and settle your affairs according to the instructions laid out in your will. Make certain the person you choose is both willing and able to serve. You can choose multiple executors, name a back up executor, or even choose a bank or an attorney to act as your executor in your will.
Since we cannot predict the future, it is impossible to prepare a will that addresses every possibility. As previously mentioned, you should review and update your estate planning documents whenever significant changes happen in your life, or in the lives of those you have already named in your will. Consider meeting with us if and when the following major life events occur:
- Changes in persons you want to receive your property: Someone you have named in your will may die, or a new member may be added to your family through birth, adoption or marriage.
- Changes in where you live: If you move to a different state, you should have your will reviewed by a lawyer in your new state. Although laws are similar from state to state, there can be important differences in how wills should be written or will be interpreted by the courts. We are licensed in New York and Florida and can provide proper guidance in both these jurisdictions.
- Changes in your finances: If you have a significant change in your financial circumstances, you may want to change to whom you give property or how much they should receive.
- Changes in your marital status: If you get married, divorced or your spouse passes away, you likely need to revise your will.
We know that estate planning can be a daunting, complicated, and unnerving process and we strive to provide complete, compassionate, understanding estate and life care planning services to our clients and community. Contact us today! We look forward to helping you achieve your goals.