What You Need to Consider Before Executing a Last Will and Testament
1. Your property Make a list of everything you own and how much it is worth. Include your home and any other real estate or time shares, bank and\or brokerage accounts, insurance policies, any personal valuables and any business interests you own. Typically, your insurance policies and retirement accounts will have beneficiary designations but they still should be considered "property" of your estate.
2. Providing for your loved ones Who you would like to leave your property to? Make sure that you make proper provisions for your spouse or partner, children, extended or previous family members and friends. Make sure to address children from a previous marriage, if applicable. Do you want to leave some money to a particular charity? Do you want to put any conditions on any of your distributions? A common condition is that children must reach a particular age, say 21, before being entitled to the money that you leave them. You also have the option of having a trust created at the time of your death to administer any assets left to a child who may be 21, but is not responsible enough to handle any substantial inheritance.
3. Guardians Do you have any minor children? If so, who would you want to care for them if you were to die before they reach the age of 18? Do you want the same person to serve as both guardian and conservator? Sometimes it is appropriate to have a different individual serve in each role to have some sort of "checks and balances" system in place.
4. Your business interests What would you like to happen to any business interests you may own after you die?
5. Any other wishes? Do you have any particular wishes for the arrangement of your funeral? In particular, would you prefer to be buried or cremated - or do you have some other preference? Do you have any specific requests regarding where your funeral is held, or where you are to be buried? How do you feel about organ donation\anatomical gifts?
6. Appointing Personal Representatives(Executors) Personal Representatives are people you appoint to administer your estate i.e. carry out your wishes under the will when you die. This could be a family member or close friend. Make sure that you appoint someone who understands financial issues and don't forget to make sure that they are prepared to take on the role of executorships should you die. This is important as without checking with them first, you run the risk of them refusing to act as Personal Representatives and leaving the estate without someone you have chosen to administer it. Bear in mind that there can be quite long term responsibilities under the will - especially if your will involves the creation of a trust, for example, with regard to your children.
Remember, a simple Last Will and Testament as described above does not address any tax issues that may come up and should not be construed as tax planning.
It is good advice to review your will at least every 5 years and especially on any major life changes such as marriage, divorce, or having a child. Although nowadays it is possible to draw up your own will, this is very risky - the number of badly drafted wills being contested is on the increase - at a huge and financial cost to the deceased's estate. You should think about getting some professional advice from an experienced wills and probate attorney.
Beware ... Michigan Wills are important legal documents which bind the parties for years into the future. DO NOT attempt to enter into any such agreement as provided by an Internet service or other do-it-yourself legal forms provider. Such services and forms are notoriously unreliable; are not current with or do not even address Michigan law; and are incapable of properly addressing the particular circumstances and desires of the parties involved.