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I need a will. Now what?

By Blinn Bates

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[April 18, 2014]  For most people, some life event will usually prompt them to start seriously thinking about planning for their own demise. Maybe it is the death of a loved one, a birth or prompting from a friend or colleague.

Whatever the case may be, we can be assured that we will not live forever. When I talk to people who want to get serious about the process, they frequently want to know what they can do in advance to maximize the productivity of our meetings. I have a deep affection for lists, so, without further ado:

1. Compile a list of assets and liabilities.

The value of what you own will likely play a large role in your overall estate plan. How your assets are owned (jointly or individually) is also important. This may seem like a daunting task, but unless you are as wealthy as Mark Cuban, it is not as difficult as it would seem. While you are creating your list, it is a great time to compile supporting account statements, deeds, vehicle titles, etc. If you have all of these documents in a centralized location, you will make someone's life much easier down the road.

2. Think about who you want to wind up your affairs after you are gone.  

Remember that person  I mentioned in No. 1 whose life is going to be made easier? They thank you in advance for taking No. 1 to heart.

3. Think about who you want to take care of your minor children.

If you do not have minor children, feel free to continue enjoying your peace and quiet while you skip to No. 4. If you do have minor children, you may come to find that you and your spouse or significant other may not immediately agree on this topic. I assure you, this is a conversation you would rather have in the comfort of your own home.

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4. Determine who/what you want your assets to go to.

With some limited exceptions, people have fairly broad discretion to have their assets distributed after their death as they see fit. However, unless these wishes are outlined in an enforceable last will and testament, the state will make this determination for you. Based on the state of Illinois' track record, that is probably not a risk you want to run.

5. Write down the questions you have.

This seems unnecessary, but writing questions down as you think of them will ensure that they are not forgotten or overlooked.

I have to admit, contemplating my own mortality is not enjoyable. But, in my mind, protecting the assets I have worked hard for, and assuring my loved ones are cared for, far outweighs that somewhat uncomfortable reality. It is also important to remember, just because you have a will does not mean you are required to use it anytime soon.    


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