Writing a will is one of the most critical ways you can protect your loved ones and your assets after you pass away. Sure, there aren’t many people who enjoy spending time thinking about their eventual death and how it will affect those closest to them, but these difficult conversations and brainstorming sessions are necessary if you’re going to fully protect your family and take control over how you’ll pass down your possessions to your heirs.
To familiarize you with the process, here are a few basic things you should know about writing a will.
- You should always work with an attorney: Yes, you can find some do-it-yourself will resources on the internet, and no, you’re not legally required to work with an attorney to prepare your will. The only requirement is that the will meets all legal requirements of the state. However, you can be much more certain that you’ll develop a will that eliminates any loopholes or potential challenges to its validity if you work with an attorney. Considering not all of your property and belongings pass according to your will, an attorney will also understand the best solutions available to you to customize your estate plan to fit your personal situation.
- You’ll need witnesses: To make your will valid and legally binding, you’ll need to have it signed by witnesses. Just about anyone can serve as a witness, but you should not select anyone who is a beneficiary in your will, as that could create a conflict of interest. In Massachusetts, you’re required to have two witnesses sign your legal will.
- You’ll need to choose a Personal Representative: Your estate personal representative (formerly known as “executor”) is the person who carries out all of the wishes you’ve outlined in your will, and handles issues such as settling estate debts and taxes. You can select your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative. If you have some particularly complicated elements to your estate, you might select an attorney or financial advisor. Be sure to select an alternate personal representative in the event your first choice is unavailable to serve in the capacity for any reason.
- You can be as specific as you want with bequests: If there are specific pieces of property you wish to leave to certain heirs, you can indicate this in your will. You can also leave behind general gifts if you wish, including percentages of the value of your estate. There’s a lot of flexibility with how you leave behind your assets to your heirs.
- You and your spouse should have separate wills: Just about any estate planning attorney you talk to will advise against you and your spouse making a joint will. You will almost certainly not die simultaneously, and chances are you each have some property that is not jointly owned. Even though both of your wills could end up being very similar, you should still have your own documents in place.
- Wills do not avoid probate: In general, your property that you own individually is part of your probate estate, which is controlled by your will. In contrast, property owned by a trust, property that has a valid beneficiary designation, and some jointly owned property is NOT probate property and therefore is not controlled by your will.
MA Estate Planning Attorney
For more information about writing a will, probate avoidance and what you need to know about getting started with the estate planning process, contact an experienced estate and probate planning lawyer at Baker Law Group, P.C.