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Estate Planning 101: Understanding the Basics of a Will

Updated: May 30, 2023

When most people think of estate planning, they often only think of a will. While a will is an essential estate planning document, a stand-alone will must be probated. In this article, we will explore the basics of a will, aiming to educate individuals who may be unfamiliar with estate planning. By understanding these fundamentals, you can take control of your assets, appoint trusted individuals, and secure the future of your loved ones.


1. Appointing a Personal Representative


A crucial aspect of a will is the ability to appoint a personal representative, also known as an executor or executrix. The personal representative is the person responsible for administering your estate and carrying out your wishes according to the terms outlined in your will. It is important to select someone you trust, as they will handle tasks such as distributing assets, paying debts, and managing legal proceedings, if necessary.


2. Naming the Conservator and Guardian of Minor Children


For parents of minor children, a will is a must-have document. Unlike a trust, a will provides the ability to name a conservator and guardian. The conservator is responsible for managing and protecting the financial interests of minor children until they reach adulthood. On the other hand, the guardian will provide care, support, and guidance for the children. Naming these individuals ensures that your children are well cared for and protected in the event of your passing. The court must approve the appointment of a conservator or guardian, and having a will gives the court direction as to who you want to look after your children in the event you are no longer able. Without a will, the court will often choose whoever petitions for the position, which may not be in line with your wishes.


3. Passing on Assets to Intended Beneficiaries


One of the primary purposes of a will is to determine how your assets will be distributed among your intended beneficiaries. Although we recommend accomplishing this through a trust, any assets which are not "trust property" can be directed to your trust (pour-over will) or to beneficiaries directly (standard will). Through your will, you can specify who will receive your property, investments, personal belongings, and other assets. This allows you to provide for your loved ones, charities, or any other individuals or organizations important to you. An estate planning attorney can help you clearly outline your wishes to avoid any confusion or disputes.


4. Periodic Review and Updating


Finally, it is crucial to emphasize that estate planning is not a one-time task. Life circumstances change, and it is essential to review and update your will periodically. Events such as marriage, divorce, births, deaths, changes in the law, or changes in financial status may necessitate modifications to your will. Regularly reviewing and updating your will ensures that it accurately reflects your current wishes and avoids any unintended consequences.


Creating a will is an essential step in securing your legacy and providing for your loved ones after you are gone. By understanding the basics outlined in this article, you can take the necessary steps to protect your assets, appoint trusted representatives, and ensure the well-being of your minor children. Remember to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can provide personalized guidance based on your unique circumstances. By taking action today, you can achieve peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out and your loved ones will be taken care of.

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