If you were a client at DBM, you would hear us talk about wills and estate planning a lot. That’s because, if you have any assets, children or a life partner, there is simply no more important document you can make than your will. Your will makes sure that your precise wishes are carried out after your death: where your money, property, insurance, and other assets go; who will take care of your kids should there not be a surviving parent; and who will make sure your wishes are honoured.
There are four key steps in making a will:
- Who you are.
At the start of your will, identify yourself, establish your address, and state that this will replaces all previous wills that you have made (assuming this is not your first one).
- Who will carry out your wishes
You need to name someone who will look after your estate and wishes after you die. This person is called an Executor, and whomever you appoint must agree to be the Executor. You are permitted to appoint more than one person to be your Executors.
- Your explicit wishes for your estate
The next section of your will, which can take any number of paragraphs, clearly and concisely describes how you want your estate to be handled:
(I) Debts – Any debts you had when you died must be paid before any other terms of the will are executed.
(II) Gifts – If there is a person you want to have a specific gift, you need to make a list of who they are and what you want them to receive.
(III) Residue – once the debts are paid and the special gifts are accounted for, you are left with what is called the residue of the estate. This is where you name all the people who will share this portion of your estate. It is very important that you are thorough and precise.
If you want your minor children to get their part of your estate at a later time, you must specify the age at which you want them to receive their share.
- Execution of the Will
You must sign your will in front of two witnesses. You and your two witnesses must initial every page and sign the will, in front of each of other and at the same time.
Neither witness can be a beneficiary or the spouse of a beneficiary named in the will—or else the gift to that beneficiary is considered to be void.
That, in a nutshell, is your basic, legally binding will. Of course, depending on the complexity of the estate, minor children or other factors, you can add other clauses to protect your wishes.
Clauses for Children Under 19
a) Power to Hold Assets for Children – If your minor children are receiving a gift, you should consider adding a clause that the gift be held in trust by a trustee (normally, the Executor) until the children turn at least 19.
b) Guardian – If there is no surviving parent capable of caring for your minor children, you should name a guardian, with their permission, to look after them until they are 19 years old.
If you are unsure about any aspect of writing a will, you may want to consult with one of DBM’s Estate lawyers to make sure your wishes will be carried out. Having a properly executed will and last testament will spare your family a lot of trouble during a difficult time. It is one of the best gifts you can leave them.