Your will is a legal document which instructs the state on your wishes for how you would like your affairs to be taken care of after you pass away. Although often associated with passing property on to others, the will serves several other purposes as well. You may use it to give instructions about the way that your remains should be treated. You may, with some limitations, use it to instruct the state on how you would like your children to be cared for after your death. And you may use it to dispose of property.
One of the most important tasks in drafting a will is to name the executor. This is the person who will be charged with the task of carrying out your will. Although there is no requirement that the executor know of this designation ahead of time, it is a good idea to make sure that the person is ready and willing to take on that role. Importantly, is most states a person who stands to benefit from your will cannot also serve as an executor or a witness to your will. Having named your executor, you have three main areas for a simple will that you will need to cover.
Your will is the best place to state, in clear terms, what you want done with your remains. Do you want cremation? Burial? Is there a particular location that you have been hoping to be buried – perhaps near a loved one or a favorite place. This is the time and place to let the world know your wishes. Realize that there are limits to this wish. All states have laws on how and where human remains can be disposed of, so consult a funeral director or attorney before writing non standard requests here. Also realize that your will only comes into force after your death, so it cannot be used to tell your loved ones what to do if you are alive but in a permanent vegetative state. You need a living will to do that.
The most recognized use for a will is to instruct the state on how to dispose of any property that you leave behind. Every state has a system of rules in place that would govern this in the event that you die without a will, or ‘intestate’. Your careful drafting of how you want your estate divided will prevent these default rules from coming into play. In addition, many states have certain rules that will invalidate an attempt to leave no support for certain close family members, particularly spouses and minor children. If you are thinking of drafting a will that will leave somebody out in the cold, consult with an estate attorney familiar with your local laws.
Although your ability to use your will to provide instructions for the care of your minor children is not without limits, you can use the document to make your desires known. Most states will act in what is termed the “best interests of the child” to find a place for him or her. But if you have already had a talk with a particular relative who is prepared to care for your children, this is the place to make that desire known. In addition, your will can be used to direct that certain portions of your estate be set aside in trust for the use of your minor children after they reach adulthood. In many cases, attorneys who specialize in estate planning can help with trusts as well. But even if you do not establish the trust ahead of time, you can direct your executor to do so after your death.
There are a wide variety of rules about how many people must witness your signature and what types of specific words must be written in the document. Make sure that no witness stands to benefit from the will, and make sure that you date the will and specifically nullify any previous will.