5 things to include in a personal will

When planning your personal will, be sure to include these five items to cover the important areas of your final estate.

A surprising number of people put off writing a will with the idea that they will do it "later," after they retire. But the sad fact is that many die before they get a chance to record their last will and testament, which means the government will make property and financial decisions for them.

The smart thing to do is to plan your will now, while you are healthy enough to determine the disposition of your assets and designate someone you trust to manage your affairs when you are gone. Here are five key things to consider when planning your will:

1. Who will be your executor? You will have to name someone to administer your will, with an attorney's help, after your death. It is important to name someone after receiving that person's agreement to serve in the role of executor or administrator of your "estate," which merely means all real and personal property and funds in your name. Many people choose a surviving spouse to handle these tasks. But those who are single, divorced, or widowed will need to choose someone other than a spouse. Give that person a copy of your will, or indicate where one can be found when you pass away.

2. What are your preferred funeral arrangements? Write out a description of the type of service you would like to have, which mortician should provide these services, and explain related situations, such as burial site. You may want to pre-pay a funeral or maintain a life insurance policy that will cover the basic costs. Expenses include the body's preparation, as by embalming, along with choice of casket and vault, cemetery plot, clergy and service, organist for music, and other items. Discuss these with a funeral director, even if you do not plan a pre-paid funeral, for a better idea of the costs that may be incurred. Often the actual funeral expenses are not made part of the will, but are outlined in a separate document. Seek an attorney's counsel when making your will.

3. Who will be your beneficiaries? While it may be natural to assume your children will inherit everything you have, take into account issues like these:

-List the full legal name of each child to avoid later misinterpretation or possible confusion.

-Indicate which share, or how much, of your estate each person is entitled to.

-Discuss the second-line choices for children who may pre-decease you.

-Explain when the person will receive each share. For example, if you should die when your child is eighteen years old, do you want the child to receive an entire inheritance or simply a portion of it until he or she turns age 21?

4. Who will get certain personal possessions and household goods? Be sure to indicate who gets what with respect to the furniture, appliances, and in some cases, the fixtures. Many siblings or benefactors will argue over a bequest that is not clearly spelled out in the will. For example, Uncle Harry may have suggested that you should inherit the riding mower, but realize belatedly he already said five years ago that Cousin Willy could have it. Be clear about the items that should go to particular people.

5. Obtain witnesses for your signature. A witness not only agrees impartially to indicate that a person truly signed the will; a witness is someone who can help to explain the facts laid out in the will in case there should be further questions in the future. Get your witnesses' agreement in advance that they will be willing to work with you on this matter.

Having a written, signed will, with copies to your attorney and potential witnesses, is an important duty to those who are responsibly planning the future. If you are not ready to consult an attorney on this matter, pick up an inexpensive will kit at the office supply store or download a free template from the Internet. Then be sure to get the will signed and witnessed as soon as possible to protect yourself and your family when the time comes.

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