If you do not make arrangements for what will happen after you die, the government will step in and make all those decisions for you. The process may also be more difficult and costly for your family, so it is important to make a will. Below are considerations to apply when preparing your will.
Use separate wills for you and your spouse – Estate planners often advise against joint wills, and some states do not recognize them. It is likely you and your spouse will not die at the same time, and there may be property that is not jointly held. That is why separate wills make better sense, even though your will and your spouse’s will might end up looking very similar. In particular, separate wills allow for each spouse to address issues such as ex-spouses and children from previous relationships. The same is true for property that was obtained during a previous marriage. Be very clear about who gets what. Probate laws generally favor the current spouse.
Have your will witnessed – Any person can act as a witness to your will, but you should select someone who is not a beneficiary. Otherwise there is the potential for a conflict of interest. The technical term is a disinterested witness. Some states require two or more witnesses. If a lawyer drafts your will, he or she should not serve as a witness. Some states also require a will to be notarized. You may want to have your witnesses sign a self-proving affidavit in the presence of a notary. This affidavit can speed up the probate process because your witnesses likely will not be called into court by a judge to validate their signatures and the authenticity of the will.
Keep your will safe – A probate court usually requires your original will before it can process your estate, so it is important to keep the document safe yet accessible. If you put the will in a bank safe deposit box that only you can get into, your family might need to seek a court order to gain access. A waterproof and fireproof safe in your house is a good alternative. Your attorney or someone you trust should keep signed copies in case the original is destroyed.
Review your will periodically and update it as necessary – The only version of your will that matters is the most current valid one in existence at the time of your death. With that in mind, you may want to revisit your will at times of major life changes. These include marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary or executor, a significant purchase or inheritance, and so on. A rule of thumb is to review your will every two or three years to be safe.
Bio: Mark Courtemanche, President of Courtemanche Wealth Management, is a 2nd generation advisor with over 20 years of experience spanning insurance, brokerage and retirement planning. He holds a BS Degree in Finance from Bryant University in Rhode Island where he also played baseball. He obtained the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designations from the American College. Mark@CourtemancheWealthManagement.com
Reprint, by permission, of an article in Mark Courtemanche’s April 2014 newsletter.