Information Needed to Make a Will
In order to make your will you are going to need to know your:
Beneficiaries and Heirs. The names of the members of your family, friends, and charities you want
to leave property too.
Property. What property you own, what debt you have, where the property is located,
and who is on the title.
Bequests. The names of who will be receiving what pieces of property, and who you
would like to receive the property if they do not outlive you.
Residuary Beneficiary. This is the person who will receive any items not specifically given away
in the will.
Names of Interested Parties
You are going to want to know as much as possible about the people or organizations
who you are going to give property or whom might expect to receive property
under the will. A good way to start is to make a list of the following:
(1) Name of current or former spouse(s). Date and place of divorce or separation
(2) Names and birth dates of all your children, whether or not they are
(3) Names of parents, whether or not they are still living
(4) Names of brothers and sisters, whether or not they are still living
(5) Alternate Family Situation - if you have a companion or lover, their name.
(6) Do you have an agreement or contract with that person about the ownership
or disposition of your property? If yes, you will need a copy of the agreement.
Not all of your property can be given away in your will. Some property
is distributed differently because it is jointly owned or governed by
a contract. Examples of this type of property are life insurance policies,
jointly owned property, bank accounts, and some retirement benefits. Read
more about what you can give away in your will here.
Once you know what you can give away in your will, you are going to need
to list all of your assets, including real estate, interest in a business
or professional practice, bank accounts, stocks or bonds, cars, jewelry,
clothing, artwork, furniture, etc. it is helpful to number these items
when you make your list.
You may leave all your property to one or more persons and/or charities,
or leave particular pieces of property or specific amounts of money to
Your "first choice" is called the intended beneficiary and your
"second choice" is called the successor or contingent beneficiary.
Even if you are going to give all of your property to one person, do no
forget to list a second person or charity to your items.
If you want to leave property to a minor, you are also going to need name
a custodian of the property until the child reaches the age of 18. The
custodian will manage the property for the child is able to legally own
the property as an adult.
If you are giving away a piece of property that is subject to a mortgage,
lien, or loan, you will want to decide if you are giving away the property
with the debt, or if you want to use some other portion of your estate
to pay the debt.
This is a person or charity who receives any of your money or property
not specifically distributed in your will, which you forgot to include
in your will, or which you acquire after you have executed the will. This
person also receives gifts to others which fail because the named beneficiary
or beneficiaries die before you.
Tip: It is not uncommon for the person listed as your residuary beneficiary
to end up with a large portion of your estate. For this reason, people
often list the person they are giving most of their estate to as the residuary
An executor is the person who will be responsible for distributing your
property, paying your debts and managing your property during the probate
of your estate. You will need to name an Executor and an Alternate Executor.
This is an important issue, so consider reading our
Chosing an Executor section.
Burial or Cremation Instructions
You are going to want to consider and decide on the following:
(1) Burial or cremation?
(2) Funeral, memorial service, or neither?
(3) Special instructions - Do you want your Executor to publish an obituary?
(4) Do you have any special instructions for the obituary?
You might have some remaining questions about your will. Take some time
to brainstorm these questions and keep track of them so you can feel confident
your will is accurately expressing your wishes. Although it is common
to update or change your will, it is best to minimize the number of wills
and updates wills you have in order to avoid cost and confusion.