The Fundamentals of a Last Will and Testament
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
A Last Will and Testament or a “Will” is a legal document that expresses your postmortem wishes. It appoints a personal representative or executor to administer your estate. It designates a guardian of the person and property of minor children. It usually covers burial instructions, funeral expenses and estate tax apportionment. However, it is most commonly understood to govern the transfer of a deceased person’s property to his/her designated beneficiaries. The term “Property” includes everything you can possibly own, such as cash, stocks, bonds, houses, vehicles, jewelry, artwork, business interests, and even future interests-think Michael Jackson. His estate will be open for a very long time. In other words, property is everything you own, both now and in the future.
A Last Will and Testament represents a critical piece of the estate planning puzzle. The other pieces would include a Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate and Living Will. It may also include a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust or more complicated structures and vehicles depending on the needs of the client. A Last Will and Testament typically addresses more than just property, including the following:
- Disposition of tangible personal property (TPP) is anything that you can touch, such as jewelry, artwork, sculptures, computers, clothing, etc.
- Identification of beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are those people or organizations who will receive an ownership interest in your assets following your death.
- Appointment of fiduciaries (personal representative and guardian of person and property of minor children).
- Final disposition (burial, cremation and entombment).
Having an estate plan demonstrates the highest form of responsibility to yourself and your family. A will represents the first step in the process. Consulting with a financial advisor is also critical, and it’s especially important that they communicate effectively and work together seamlessly. If you fail to create a will or otherwise plan your estate, your home state will decide many issues for you, such as designating beneficiaries and fiduciaries. Worse yet, your family will charged with wrapping up your affairs for you when you pass away or managing them if you become incapacitated. It’s analogous to an undesired and unpleasant second job focused exclusively on an already emotionally draining or painful experience. Planning ahead saves money and avoids these pitfalls and gives you the peace of mind and clarity about your life and personal and financial affairs both during life and after death.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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