To ensure your will stands up it should be written, by an attorney. Wills that you write yourself, or fill-in-the-blanks preprinted wills, may not cover all of your particular circumstances. Generally, you and your spouse should have individual wills rather than joint wills, for more flexibility.
After you’ve made your will, have copies made but sign only the original. (Signing duplicates may cause technical problems.) Store the original in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe or a filing cabinet in your home or office. If you leave your will with your attorney or a relative it may be misplaced or lost.
Don’t store the original will in a bank safe-deposit box. Many states seal those boxes immediately after death, to prevent tax cheating, so there may be delays in getting the will. No matter where you keep the original copy of your will, be sure your family knows where to find it.
A competent attorney will know what belongs in a will. Nevertheless, it’s your will so you should check it carefully before signing. Here’s what to look for:
- An introductory clause with your complete name and address. This clause should state that this is your official will, replacing any previous ones.
- A statement of how you want your funeral expenses, debts, and any estate taxes to be paid. If part of your estate is tax-exempt and part is taxable, you’ll likely want these expenses paid out of the taxable portion, which will reduce your taxable estate.
- Directions on how your assets will be handed down. Leaving assets to a surviving spouse is fairly simple but things may get a little more complicated when you have to decide how to leave assets to your children and their children.
Per capita means that each beneficiary receives the same amount. Suppose you plan on leaving your money to two children but one of your children dies before you, leaving two of her own children. Now you have three beneficiaries–one surviving child and two grandchildren who have lost their mother. Under a per capita arrangement, each would receive one-third of the assets to be distributed.
Per stirpes means that your assets are to be divided evenly among your children.
If your children predecease you, their children split that share. In the example, the surviving child would get 50 percent of the assets while the two children of the child who died would get 25 percent apiece.