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Write a Last Will and Testament

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Bill Kerst President, Community First Trust Company. He has been conducting educational seminars on IRAs, asset management, and trust management for over 15 years. He has served as the moderator for the Income Taxation of Estates and Trusts course offered by the Arkansas Society of CPA’s and provided many seminars to civic and church groups in the community. For more information, call 501-520-3660.

Writing your “last will and testament” isn’t a subject most people look forward to and the first few times you think about it, the thought immediately gets deferred. It remains shocking that so many adults simply don’t have a will in place. Drafting a will is extremely important if you have a family to provide for or children who absolutely need you to make decisions for them as minors.

It is one of those tasks that you can do that will actually cause you to breathe a sigh of relief when finished. Everyone with children knows they need it, yet if you asked two people today, the odds are neither one will have it done. I did just that as a test, and the answer was the same both times: “I’ve been meaning to!”
Lets tackle the basics –
Who will get the property?
You can address the distribution of property in your will numerous ways. One method is to leave a list of specific items to specific individuals. “I leave my 20-guage shotgun to . . .” or “I leave all my Wal-Mart stock to . . .”  Or you can leave specific percentages to your beneficiaries, allowing your heirs to divide the property according to the allocation you selected. “I leave ¼ of my estate to each child of mine.” “I leave 50% to Charity A and 50% to Charity B.” There are many ways to create a distribution pattern.
If you have minor children, who will be their guardian?
Obviously, one of, if not the most important questions for parents when creating a will, is who would you like to raise your child in the event of your death? Who is most likely to raise them in the same manner as a parent? Once you get past this hurdle, discuss guardianship with the person you’ve selected before the creation of the will. You need to make sure the person you have selected is willing to take on this responsibility.
What property is included in your will?
When you create a will, you must think about the property that is included in your will. There is often confusion in this area. Most assets you own are titled in your name, if they have a title. Household effects normally do not have a title, but they are still controlled by your will. Many assets like life insurance and retirement plans will have a beneficiary designation. Keep in mind, that if you name a beneficiary on a policy, annuity or retirement account, that designation “trumps” your will. So if your will leaves everything to your favorite nephew, he will only inherit those items that do not have beneficiary designations.
Who will be the executor of your estate?
Naming the executor of your will is one of the most important decisions you can make. The executor is responsible for settling your estate, and ensuring that “your will” is followed. An executor does all the paperwork, paying creditors, liquidating assets, pay taxes and ultimately distributing the proceeds according to “your will.” Make sure you choose a trustworthy executor, and, if you don’t want to leave this burden on your family, choose a professional executor or lawyer to handle this process.
Do you need a lawyer to draft legal wills?
Just go with “yes” to this question. You can get the forms books on the internet and you can even get some at the office supply stores, but rarely do they actually address any of the complex issues of most families.