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How To Write Your Last Will and Testament

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I was speaking with a woman about a month ago; she was looking for coverage for her final expenses. When we met she was in her front yard tending her snake, hydrangeas, ferns and spider plants, and as we conversed she told me she transplants at least once per year because she uses fertilizer to help her plants grow.

Widowed with grown children living and working away from home; she owns her small home; mortgage completed, and a small car. Middle-aged and in good health; I discovered that my new acquaintance surprisingly, however, is not unlike many Americans. She does not have a will.

According to a FindLaw.com survey conducted June of 2008; nearly 60 percent of Americans do not have a will. Although more than half of the persons surveyed aged 50 or older had a will, that percentage declined to 25 percent of persons with a will aged 25 to 34. Persons in the survey between the ages of 18 and 24, those with a will is less than ten percent.

Very few of us spend our daily lives thinking about death. Even fewer think about what it is we would like to leave our children, or our loved ones. In talking with people about their final expenses; if they have thought about the cost of a funeral, they have not thought about what happens after they have left us.

A sobering, but necessary thought. I have found that the younger my acquaintance is, the less chance there is that the words "death," and "will" are in their vocabulary.

So, you if you say you don't have a will, my immediate question is "why not?" I was told by one person, "Well, I don't own anything, what do I need a will for?" Well, if you are a home owner, or you are a business owner; a will is not only prudent, but necessary, especially if your financial empire has residual income.

If you die without a will, do you realize what could happen to your car, your clothes, your family photo album? Your business? To pass away without a will, that is to die "intestate," puts your spouse and/or family in jeopardy of having your state laws determine who gets what.

If you have a will, when is the last time you updated it? Not since the day you wrote it?

Go get it now and let's have a look.

A will is a basic component of your estate planning. Among other things, it specifies how your assets will be distributed after you pass away, and who will receive them. Without a will, the laws of the state and the decisions of a probate court may determine how your estate is distributed, who will care for your children if they are minors, and so forth.

Your last Will & Testament is one of the most important legal documents in your life. If you don't have a will because you feel that you don't own anything, make a list of your bank accounts; investments; real property; personal property, such as your 2010 Buick Lacrosse, or your '56 Chevy; your rifle collection; fishing and hunting gear and mounts.

Ladies, what about that 14k-gold necklace; diamond-studded ring; a stamp collection; a Singer sewing machine that still works; or that broach you were given by your mother or grandmother? Guys, were you given your grandfather's diamond-studded retirement watch when you were a child? What about those family photos of your great-grandparents; that baseball card collection that features a Jackie Robinson rookie card; or those savings bonds that have matured and are kept in a safety deposit box?

A will is a legal document that guides and designates when, where, and how your estate is settled and distributed according to your wishes. It can prevent arguments after your death. A will is not required by federal or state law; but if you don't want your estate to visit probate court you'll want to complete a legal and valid will, otherwise the state laws will determine who gets what based on family hierarchy, which may not be what you wanted.

As a home and/or business owner this should be done as soon as possible; a will and estate planning now will help spare your loved ones from the additional responsibilities of the distribution of your estate after you have left us; especially when your survivors should not be expected or be able to make some difficult decisions.

There are many options available when drafting a will. It is prudent to consult an attorney who specializes in estate planning to be sure that your will is compliant with current state tax codes and laws. Basic pre-printed and ready to fill-in wills are available; but these type wills are not customizable. Your own properly drafted will gives you the flexibility you need.

If you do have a will, you should review it at least every five years as circumstances and people around you and your life changes. Just as the Policy-owner in your life insurance plan, there may be cause or a need to change beneficiary or beneficiaries. Updates become necessary when there are life changing events: the birth of a child, or grandchild; a marriage; divorce; the acquisition or selling of real estate property or personal property; stocks; bonds; certificates of deposits; IRA's and 401 K's; or life insurance policies and annuities you may own, surrender or sell. If you want to give certain gifts or designate certain pieces of property you own; or simply if your overall financial state changes.

These changes require formalities that must be done correctly in order to make your changes valid and applicable under current law. You cannot cross out a word or a phrase and make new notes in handwriting on the margin on the side; this places your will in jeopardy. Minor changes can be made with a Codicil, which is a legal document designed to modify an earlier will. Major changes, however, would require revoking the old will and writing a new one. Neutral, non-beneficiary witnesses are necessary to these major changes as well. Number, sign and date every page of your will.

A properly prepared will protects you and your wishes in a Court of Law; the Judge knows that there were no changes made to your will after your death by someone with ulterior motives who wrote in a change by hand, and either added or removed pages in your will.

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