Protect Your Assets: 6 Important Things to Remember When Writing a Will

Posted On January 3, 2024

Everyone knows the importance of writing a will to protect their assets after they pass on. Fewer people actually do anything about it. A survey conducted by Caring.com in 2017 found that 60% of U.S. adults have no will or another form of estate planning in place.

Making a will is a smart idea no matter your age or current health situation, but it becomes vital when nearing the end of life. Think about the most important people and things in your life. What will they do when you’re gone?

Learn how to write a will that protects your assets and keeps your loved ones safe by asking yourself the following five questions.

When setting up a will, it’s crucial to consider important factors to ensure your wishes are properly documented. At New York Legacy Lawyers, our team of New York estate planning lawyers can help you understand the legal requirements, assist in drafting your will in a way that is valid and enforceable, and provide valuable advice on estate planning strategies that minimize taxes and protect your assets. Contact us today at (718) 713-8080 to schedule a consultation.

Brooklyn wills attorney

1. Who Will Be Your Executor?

The first thing you need to consider is who you want to handle your estate after you pass. This personal representative is the executor.

Choose someone you trust entirely and who understands the responsibility. Handling an estate requires a lot of paperwork, so the person you choose needs to be detail-oriented and organized.

Put a plan in place together, so they know what to do and where to find all your important documents. Plus any passwords they may need to access online accounts.

2. What Property Do You Own?

There’s no making a will without talking about property. Your will should include both personal and real property, so form a list of all owned properties before you start.

Personal property includes checking and savings accounts, family heirlooms, jewelry, stocks, etc. Real property includes land, houses/condos, and any other objects that don’t move.

3. Who Do You Plan to Name as Your Beneficiary?

Use the list of personal and real property to figure out who you want to get what. People usually choose a close relative, like a spouse or child, or a friend as a beneficiary.

You can include additional instructions if an unlikely event occurs, like if the bequeathed person dies. Try to be as specific as possible. Also, be aware that you can only give your share of any property jointly owned, not the whole thing.

When one parent dies, usually the other parent automatically gets custody of their minor children. However, special circumstances can mean this should not or cannot happen.

Think long and hard about who you would want to raise your kids if the unthinkable happened and talk to them about your wishes. Name the legal guardian in your will after they agree. Always list a second choice as well in the event your first choice cannot accept the responsibility.

5. Who Do You Want to Care for Your Pets?

Finally, most people treat their pets as part of the family while their alive. They care just as much about what happens to them as they would any other family member. Speak with the person you would like to care for your pets, so they agree to care for your pets after you’re gone.

Five Questions to Consider in Writing a Will Details
Who will be your executor? Choose a trustworthy and organized person who understands the responsibilities of handling an estate. Create a plan together and provide access to important documents and online accounts.
What property do you own? List all personal and real properties, including accounts, stocks, family heirlooms, jewelry, land, houses/condos, and other valuable possessions.
Who do you plan to name as your beneficiary? Identify beneficiaries for personal and real properties. Consider close relatives or trusted friends. Provide specific instructions and address unlikely scenarios.
Do you need to name a legal guardian for minors? Determine a guardian for minor children if both parents are unavailable. Discuss your wishes and have a backup choice.
Who do you want to care for your pets? Choose someone to care for your pets after your passing. Ensure they are willing and able to provide proper care.

6. Can an Executor Change a Will?

A last will and testament articulate your preferences regarding asset distribution, and the executor is the individual you designate to ensure those preferences are honored. The executor’s duties involve managing your estate, which includes supervising the probate process, overseeing your remaining assets, and guaranteeing they are transferred to your chosen beneficiaries. The executor does not have the authority to change your will at any time, either during your life or posthumously, and such actions could lead to their dismissal or legal action.

While the executor of a will holds considerable power over the decedent’s estate, their authority is not absolute. The executor is prohibited from:

  • Initiating any tasks without first obtaining legal recognition from the court (via letters testamentary)
  • Modifying the will or changing its beneficiaries
  • Denying an inheritance to a beneficiary or taking any actions contrary to the will
  • Distributing assets from the estate before the death of the testator (the person writing the will)
  • Using funds from the deceased person’s estate for personal gain
  • Augmenting their portion of an inheritance, in case the executor is also a beneficiary
  • Blocking a beneficiary or potential heir from disputing the will
  • Signing an unsigned will on behalf of the testator (which would render the will invalid)

It is important for executors to follow the will and its requirements closely to avoid being accused of not performing their fiduciary duty. Executors who are found to have breached this duty could have their role as an executor removed and they can also be subjected by the court to legal repercussions.

Important Things to Include in a Will

Creating a legally sound and comprehensive will is essential for ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes upon your death. It’s highly recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney rather than relying solely on online will programs, which may not cover all the necessary aspects and could be challenged in court. Here are some key elements to include in your will:

  • Personal Information: Include your full name, date of birth, address, and any aliases. List the names of your immediate family members to further confirm your identity.
  • Last Will and Testament Verbiage: It’s crucial to specify that the document is your last will and testament. This clear statement solidifies the legality and intent of the document.
  • Property and Assets: Detail all your assets, including real estate, belongings, and money, and specify which ones should be left to specific beneficiaries. If desired, everything can be left to one person.
  • Beneficiaries: Clearly state who should inherit your assets. Beneficiaries could be family, friends, businesses, or charities. Consider naming contingent beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary dies before you.
  • Executor: Appoint someone to execute your will and manage responsibilities such as settling bills and taxes after your death. If an executor isn’t named, the court may have to appoint one.
  • Guardianship: If you have minor children or are caring for a disabled or elderly adult, you can nominate a guardian to take care of them should you and your spouse pass away.
  • Signatures: Your will should be signed by you and witnessed. While some hand-written wills may not require witness signatures, it’s best to follow this procedure for maximum legal protection.

Creating a comprehensive and legally sound will is an essential step in ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes upon your death. This process should ideally involve consultation with an estate planning attorney. While online will programs can provide some assistance, they may not cover all these crucial aspects, making it essential to seek professional legal advice.

Working with a Top-Rated Wills Attorney from New York Legacy Lawyers

These five essential questions should simplify your initiation into will writing. Keep in mind that it’s crucial to consistently modify your will to mirror any shift in desires or newly acquired assets.

Start drafting your will today with the help of the experienced estate planning lawyers at Yana Feldman & Associates. Our dedicated team is here to guide you through crucial decisions about beneficiaries, property allocation, legal guardians for minors, and pet care. An executor can’t change a will, so it’s crucial to make your wishes clear from the start to protect your loved ones’ interests. Contact us at (718) 713-8080  to schedule a consultation. Don’t leave your legacy to chance. Let’s secure your peace of mind together