1 | Get help.
Your will is an extremely important document. An attorney will know the right questions to ask to ensure that all your wishes are known. Choose an attorney with experience and expertise in estate planning. Remember: Once you die, the will cannot be changed, even if it is flawed. It is worth the fee you will pay to know that your will (a) is correctly executed, and (b) distributes your assets the way you want, in all circumstances.
2 | Decide who should be in charge of your estate after you die.
You can name your spouse, other family member or friend—anyone you trust—to manage the process. You should also choose at least one alternate executor, in case your original executor cannot or does not want to act.
3 | Make a list of all your assets.
This includes large items of value, like your home, retirement account, or insurance benefits, as well as smaller items that may only have sentimental value. Write down the name of the person you want to receive each item. Be specific! You should also include contingent beneficiaries, in case the first beneficiary predeceases you.
4 | Include a children’s trust in your will.
Name a trustee to manage the assets you leave to your children so that they are distributed according to your wishes. Many people choose to stagger the distributions according to the child’s age. For instance, you can distribute 50 percent of the trust balance to your child at age 25, and the remaining 50 percent at age 30. You can also authorize distributions for educational expenses at any age. You’ll need to choose a trustee for this trust as well.
5 | Choose a guardian for any children you have under age 18.
This person or couple will be responsible for raising your children should you die before they turn 18, so this is a critical decision. Choose at least one alternate guardian.
—Kolbi L. Cumbo, Esq., LLM, an attorney specializing in estate planning in Atlanta