Chances are, you drew up a will when you got married or had kids, and promptly relegated it to the back of your memory bank — which could do you and your family a huge disservice. Wills should be reviewed every few years; by doing so, you'll protect your assets — and the family peace down the line. And if you haven't created a will yet, know that it doesn't have to be wildly expensive or complicated. (You can create one for free at , and update it as often as you like.)
Here, the key points to focus on when creating or updating your will:
1. Name the Right Guardian for Your Kids
In the unlikely case that you and your husband both die, consider who is young and energetic enough (a favorite grandparent may not be best), who is willing to take on the responsibility (your single-mom sister may be overwhelmed), and whom your children would be happy living with. Also consider, if you named your brother and his wife as guardians, what would happen if they were to divorce? Is there a better choice?
2. Make Sure Your Will is Worded Very Clearly
Never use such phrases as "my jewelry." This can quickly lead to confusion — and fighting among family members. Instead, say, "I leave the diamond ring with two sapphires, set in yellow gold, to my daughter Anne, and the diamond ring set in white gold to my daughter Melissa."
3. Choose Your Executor Carefully
Make sure the person who carries out the provisions of your will is ready to accept that role; not everyone wants the responsibility. Your executor is your personal representative after you die: He or she will make arrangements for your burial and ensure that your will's instructions are properly followed, paying all legitimate debts and taxes and distributing whatever is left. And be sure the executor doesn't have a vested interest. For instance, if you have a child, try to avoid appointing the same person as executor and guardian. If, say, your sister, who has her own kids, assumes both roles, she might face a conflict over which funds to use for some expenses — her own, or funds from your estate.
4. If You Are in a Second Marriage, Review Your Will
Know that if you leave your second spouse everything, he's not legally obligated to divide things up among your kids from your first marriage. (One solution: Split your estate between your spouse and your children from your previous marriage.)
5. Ask Your Parents if They Have a Will Drawn Up
You don't want to be in the sad situation of having them disabled by illness or pass away without your knowing their intentions. Say, "Mom, do you have a proper will, or have you and Dad jotted notes somewhere? May I have a copy for my files?" So as not to worry them, explain that you read this GH article about being prepared. Review the will, if they do have one; perhaps have a lawyer check it, too. And ask questions: If your parents have left a dining table to a cousin who lives across the country, will the estate or the relative pay the shipping? You can avoid a family feud if you address such questions in advance.
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