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How Detailed Should I Make My Will?

When you write a will, you can be as specific or as general as you please. For instance, you could simply hand all your property over to your spouse. Alternatively, you can designate a specific piece of your vast stamp collection to one friend.

Knowing this, creating your will can be daunting, trying to make the right decisions for your beneficiaries.

When considering how detailed your will should be, answer these questions first.

What Is Most Important to You?

Ultimately, you must decide what you want each person to have. Consider the stamp collection example above. Imagine you have a friend who is also an avid stamp collector. Do you want to simply leave the entire collection to them, or do you want them to have certain pieces you know are important to them?

More broadly (and more relevantly), where do you want your money to go? Do you have many friends and family members that can benefit from your wealth, or are you more concerned with certain individuals?

Take the time to seriously consider exactly what you want. A will is your last chance to control your property, and you should make certain it’s going where it belongs.

What Do Your Beneficiaries Need?

Beyond considering your own desires, think about those you are leaving behind. If you have a wife and children, will they be financially sound without you, or will they need the bulk of your wealth to manage?

Go back to the stamp collection and example, and consider your beneficiaries’ needs. You may want to leave the bulk of your stamps to your collector friend but leave your family the rare, valuable pieces. They might be able to sell those stamps and use that money for themselves.

How Long Do You Want the Process to Take?

When someone passes, their assets go into a process called “probate.” Someone takes control of the estate and manages its affairs. This person goes by several titles. They can be called a “personal representative” (or PR), “executor,” or “administrator.” The PR is either appointed by the court, or you can name them in your will. The PR’s first job is to handle any leftover debt connected to the estate. Once that’s done, the PR can begin distributing assets to beneficiaries.

Depending on the complexity of your will, probate can take quite a long time. Even if all your assets go to one person, each piece of property must be officially transferred from one owner to another. Houses, cars, savings accounts, and the like require a lot of paperwork. If there is only one beneficiary, it can be easier and quicker to transfer all the property. The PR will need only one person’s information, and only the transfer itself will be time-consuming.

Now consider that same process with a complex will. This piece of property goes to that person, and that piece of property goes to another person. The PR needs everyone’s information, and they need a way to get the property to each person. This may require physically shipping something or asking someone to come claim their assets. That alone takes time, as the PR must track someone down, make arrangements, and so on.

Moreover, there is no assurance of which beneficiary will be serviced at what time. A wise PR will take care of your immediate family first, but that’s not guaranteed. A novice might simply go down the list, taking care of each piece of property according to who was mentioned first in the will.

None of these considerations should dissuade you from making a complex will. A will represents your last wishes, and it should reflect exactly what you believe is right. We simply encourage you to consider time when crafting your will. If you have needy beneficiaries who require immediate assistance, that should influence how you write your will.

Alternative to a Will

If you must distribute finances to your beneficiaries quickly, consider setting up a trust. A trust is a living financial entity. It can continue to buy, sell, and invest, allowing it to grow. Using a trust can also help you avoid probate.

Essentially, you can put all your major assets into the trust. Then you appoint a trustee to manage the estate after you are gone. This trustee could be the same person who receives your property. That way, they can simply use money directly from the trust as needed.

Using a trust does not prohibit you from using a will, either. When it comes to specific items that you want certain friends to have, a will can take care of that.

If you need help with planning your estate, reach out to our office. We can give you a free consultation, evaluating your needs and offering guidance. You can call us at (916) 299-3936 or contact us online.