1. Executors. An executor is the person who manages your estate, pays your debts and distributes your assets in accordance with your will. Choose someone you trust, who can act impartially towards the beneficiaries and manage your affairs honestly and according to the terms of your Will. It is best if this person resides in your state.
The executor is usually a spouse or another trusted family member or friend. He/she can be a beneficiary, but doesn’t need to be. Always name an alternate executor in case the first is unable or unwilling to act. If you don’t have anyone suitable in your state, you can appoint a legal firm to act as your executor, but always ask if they provide this service.
2. Specific Bequests. These are precise gifts you would like to make before the rest of your estate is divided up. Specific bequests can include a family heirloom, piece of jewelry, donation to a charity, a sum of money and the like. For example, giving your wedding ring to your granddaughter before the rest is distributed. You do not have to name any specific bequests; you can simply leave your entire estate to the beneficiaries of your choice.
3. Residue. The residue of your estate will include all your willable property, real and personal (except any specific bequests you’ve stipulated). Your executor has the right sell any or all of the residue assets to pay for your funeral expenses, debts, estate expenses and taxes and then to distribute the balance to the named beneficiaries. Commonly, people give the residue to their spouse and then to the children in case the spouse dies first.
4. Non-Willable Property. Assets which are held jointly or which nominate a beneficiary on your death, such as life insurance and pay on death accounts will NOT pass through your will.
5. Minors. If you have minor children, you may nominate at what age you wish your children to receive their share (eg: 18, 25, 30 or any age you like).
6. Guardians. You should appoint guardians for your minor children ie: people who would take your children on your death and look after their welfare. Whilst their other parent is still alive, the surviving parent will usually have a natural right to custody. Name a guardian just in case something happens to the children’s other parent. Also include an alternate guardian in case the first is not able to serve. Remember to always ask the person if they are willing to take on the role.
7. Trustee of Minor Children’s Property. The person who manages your underage children’s money and property left in your will (called the Trustee) can either be the guardian or somebody else. Nominate a person you trust and who is willing and able to carry out this task impartially.
8. Burial/Cremation. You can give instructions in your Will on how you wish to be buried or cremated.
9. Excluding Children. If you intend to exclude a child from the Will, and they contest your Will, a judge may deem the omission a mistake (ie: that you forgot to add them) and accordingly that child may end up being entitled to a share. For example, in Alabama, an omitted child born or adopted after you sign your Will, will be entitled to a share of your estate, unless certain conditions have taken place. Consult an attorney for further advice if you wish to exclude any child (or grandchild if your child is deceased) from your Will.
10. Excluding your Spouse. Legislation in some states entitles your spouse to a share of your estate, even if you exclude him/her from the Will. If you wish to exclude your spouse or leave him/her a nominal amount (less than half) consult an attorney.
11. Using template Will Forms. Whenever selecting any Will Template from any company, service or website, always remember to read through the whole form to ensure it suits your needs and wants. For example, some generic will forms, which provide trusts for minor children, separate the children’s shares into individual trusts whilst others leave just one trust for all minor children.
12. Deleting lines & instructions. Whenever using any Will Form or template, always remember to delete blank lines and any guidance or instructions written on the form. The final will should NOT look like a form.
13. Clear Intentions. Before signing, read over your final Will and make sure your intentions are clear. If there is room for doubt or any ambiguity, make the appropriate changes and reprint the Will.
14. Correcting Errors. Never use liquid paper to delete mistakes from a Will. Always reprint the whole document.
15. Self-Prove Your Will. Some states allow you to self-prove your Will. This is highly recommended as it gives your will added authenticity. It also reduces probate costs since your witnesses won’t need to appear in court to affirm your Will.
Self-proving requires you and your witnesses sign affidavits before a notary public, affirming your Will and your identities. This should be done simultaneously with signing the Will. The self-proving affidavits must be attached to your Will and signed by the same witnesses that sign your Will.
16. The signing & witnessing clause. The signing and witnessing clause at the end of a Will should be kept intact. If this requires leaving a large space between the final sentence of your Will (before the signing clause) and the bottom of the page, cross out this area to avoid any later insertions. The testator and all witnesses should place their initials next to this crossing out.
17. Who can be a witness? Your witnesses should be 18 years or older. Even though some states allow interested parties (beneficiaries and heirs) to witness a will, it’s always advisable to choose someone independent. No witness should be a beneficiary under your Will nor a husband or wife of a beneficiary. Most states require two witnesses, some three.
18. Procedure for signing and witnessing.
Arrange for two (three if your state requires) independent adult witnesses to be present at all times during your signing of the Will.
All parties should use the same pen. Otherwise there may be an inference that somebody left the room or was not present at the same time.
Your witnesses must know that they are witnessing your Will. They do not need to know the contents and are not required to read your will.
In front of all witnesses, you should sign your name (with your usual signature) at the bottom of each page and at the end of the Will where designated for the “Testator”.
In your presence and sight, all witnesses should sign the Will (with their usual signature) as indicated on the foot of each page and at the end. Each witness should write their full name and address where indicated.
Insert the date and place of signing where indicated, usually on the last page.
19. Original & Copies. If you consult an attorney to draft your Will, they will usually keep the original in their safe and give you a copy. If you don’t have a lawyer involved, you should only make one signed original. Keep the original in a safe or safety deposit box; somewhere it cannot be destroyed, water damaged or burned. You should give your executor(s) instructions to find your original Will and if you like, a copy of your unsigned Will.
20. Destroy old documents. Always destroy all your old Wills, Codicils and copies of them after signing a new Will.