Don't Make These 5 Common Mistakes When Writing a Will


It's a task no one likes to think about: With everything going on in our lives, do we really want to add our own mortality to the list of our concerns? As unpleasant as it may be to consider, having a will is a critical way to take care of your family should you pass away. It will also ensure that your wishes are carried out in a way that aligns with your values. (See also: What You Need to Know About Writing a Will)

For most of us, it's a fairly straightforward process. We have the options of free online kits, using a service like LegalZoom, or consulting with an attorney. No matter which option you choose, here are some common mistakes to avoid when creating a will.

1. Not giving anyone responsibility

When a will is executed, there must be a person assigned to settle the will when the time comes. This person is known as an executor, and that person makes sure that your wishes are carried out exactly as you intended. It's very important for you to select a responsible person you trust, and get that person's permission to name them as the executor. This is not something you want to be a surprise.

Also, you may want to strongly consider naming a second executor in the event that something happens to the first person you name, or if he or she is unable to serve as executor for any reason. (See also: The Fair Way to Split Up Your Family's Estate)

2. Not taking care of the kids

If you have children, it's critical that you select who will become their guardian(s) and communicate that to the named guardians as well as to other family members. I have seen this become a bone of contention before and after someone's passing, and it's a heartbreaking ordeal for everyone involved. Unfortunately, the people who suffer most in the battle are the children. It can be a difficult thing to communicate these wishes to your family, but it is far easier to deal with that difficulty now than to have a potential custody battle unfold after you're gone.

You must also consider how to give your assets to your children if they are still minors. This is a very complicated financial and legal issue, though there are a number of different options that you can put in place to properly take care of it. Creating trusts or accounts under what's known as the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) are avenues worth exploring.

3. Not knowing your state laws

Wills are state-specific and different states have different laws for them. The state that executes your will should be the state where you claim legal residence even if you have homes or spend significant amounts of time in different states. FindLaw provides a clear overview of laws that govern wills in the different states.

4. Not signing the will or having a witness

You've done all of the work to create a will. Make sure to sign it and have a witness sign it in accordance with your state's specific laws. If a will is left unsigned by you or a witness, there is a high risk that it won't be honored. Also bear in mind that you must be of sound mind and body, and you must create this will without being threatened or pressured by someone else to do so. If either of these points could be disputed, a legal battle could ensue before the will is executed.

5. Not making it accessible

Make sure your completed and signed will is easily accessible when the time comes, particularly by your executor. There are a few options for this. You can keep it in a secure location such as a safe in your home or a safe-deposit box. You may also choose to provide a copy of your will to your attorney, accountant, or financial adviser if you feel comfortable doing so. Though you are not required to file your will with the court or place it into public record, some courts may provide the option to store it for you. This last possibility is a good option if the court in your local jurisdiction allows it.

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