Writing a will is easy; this is valuable information to show why.

That might explain why so many adults avoid this cornerstone of estate planning. According to recent studies, 3 out of 5 people over 45 don’t have a Will.

But creating a Will is one of the most critical things you can do for your loved ones. Putting your wishes on paper helps your heirs avoid unnecessary hassles. You gain the peace of mind of knowing that a life’s worth of possessions will end up in the right hands.

A Will is a meaningful way to control who gets what of your property. It can save your loved one’s time and money.

The laws governing Wills vary from country to country. Some have standard law rules, whereby you can elect who you like (charities, your pet, non-family) for an inheritance. Some have civil law rules whereby you must include descendants (children, grandchildren). If you need to learn about the regulations in your country of residence, consider talking to an estate planner.

Here are some helpful guidelines.

What is a Will?

A Will is simply a legal document in which you, the testator, declare who will manage your estate after you die. Your estate can consist of big, expensive things. These can include a vacation home and small items that might hold sentimental value, such as photographs. The person named in the Will to manage your estate acts as the executor. They execute your stated wishes.

A Will can also declare who you wish to become the guardian for any minor children or dependents. Who you want to receive specific items you own. Someone designated to receive your property is called a “beneficiary.”

Some property types, including specific insurance policies and retirement accounts, generally aren’t covered by Wills. It would be best to list beneficiaries when you removed the policies or opened the accounts. Please check if you need help remembering and ensuring you keep beneficiaries up to date since what you have on file when you die should dictate who receives those assets.

In general, you should refrain from writing assets in your will as these come and go, and they would leave you changing your will if you remember. You should provide your executors with a list of your assets and liabilities, preferably a schedule of assets and liabilities, so they will know whom to inform of your death and who to claim. Without this, your will only states who you want to leave in charge and to who you want assets to go.

What happens if I die without a Will?

If you die without a valid Will, you’ll become intestate. That usually means you’ll be required to settle your estate based on the country’s laws where you hold assets that outline who inherits what. Probate is the legal process of transferring a deceased person’s property to the rightful heirs.

Due to the lack of an executor, a judge appointed an administrator to serve in that capacity. An administrator will also be named if a Will is deemed invalid, so know what is acceptable if you write your own will. All Wills must meet specific standards, such as being witnessed to be legally valid.

An administrator will most likely be a stranger to you and your family, and they will follow the letter of the probate laws of your country. As such, an administrator may make decisions that wouldn’t necessarily agree with your wishes or those of your heirs.

Should I have a separate Will for my spouse or a mirror Will?

You should have a single Will if you want your assets to be distributed separately to your spouse. Your spouse should have their own too. If you are happy to have identical distributions from your estate, then you should have a mirror Will – both spouses state the same executor/s, beneficiaries and guardians.

A single Will is a Will for an individual. Single Wills cannot work for couples who want to have similar clauses in their Wills.

Mirror Wills are designed for couples to make life easier. These two separate Wills would set out the exact wishes for couples in their Wills, so a husband, wife or partner would make (almost) alike Wills. Hence the term ‘mirror’ is used. One Will is to be signed by one spouse and the other Will by the other. These two Wills essentially mirror what the other says.

So that you know, making minor differences between the two Wills is possible if required.

Who should act as a witness to a Will?

Any person can act as a witness to your Will, but you should select someone who isn’t a beneficiary or executor. Otherwise, there’s the potential for a conflict of interest. The technical term is a disinterested witness.

Wills require two witness signatures, which should be the same age or younger than you.

Who should I name as my Executor?

You can name your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative as your executor. Calling someone with legal and financial expertise might make more sense if your affairs are complicated. It would be best also to name contingent Executor/s in case the first level fails.

How do I leave specific items to specific heirs?

If you wish to leave certain personal property to certain heirs, indicate as much in your Will. In addition, you can create a separate document called a letter or expression of wishes that you should keep with your will.

A letter of wishes, which isn’t legally binding, can be written more informally than a Will and can go into detail about which items go to whom. You can also include specifics about any number of things that will help your executor settle your estate, including account numbers, passwords and even burial instructions. You can specify family heirlooms you would like to pass down, such as the silver for Aunt Sally and the china for Cousin Billy, request the education or religion of your children, and any other personal matters you feel are essential.

Your Executor/s carries out these wishes for you and will not be held back by the courts.

How often does a will need to be updated?

Your Will may need to be updated throughout life as situations change.

With that in mind, you should revisit your Will during significant life changes. Consider crucial events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary or executor, the purchase or inheritance of a significant asset, etc. Your kids probably won’t need guardians named in a Will after adulthood, but you might still need to name guardians for disabled dependents.

A rule of thumb: Review your will every two or three years to be safe.

Who has the right to contest my will?

Contesting a Will challenges the legal validity of all or parts of the document. A beneficiary who feels slighted by the terms of a Will might choose to examine it. Depending on your country, a spouse, ex-spouse or child who believes your stated wishes might also go against local probate laws.

A Will can be contested for other reasons: it did not have proper witnesses, you weren’t competent when you signed it, or the result of coercion or fraud. It’s usually up to a probate judge to settle the dispute. The key to successfully contesting a Will is finding legitimate legal fault with it.

A clearly drafted and validly executed Will is the best defence.

Please feel free to contact us at www.careysuen.com if you have any questions.