Client Estate Planning: Help Your Client With a Valid Will

It's very common for heirs to an estate to end up spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal dispute fees over an estate worth just a few thousand. In order to make sure your client’s family doesn't end up in turmoil, consider recommending a will be drawn up.

The days, weeks, and months following the death of a loved one are often filled with fraught and frustrating emotions. The prospect of dealing with an estate while your client is alive may seem like a daunting task to him or her. The alternative, however, is that your client ends up with a family that is torn at the seams by the combination of emotion and perceived slights.

If you have a client interested in writing a will that's legally binding, here are 9 rules.

1. DIY Is For Birdhouses

While it might be tempting for clients to get it out of the way on their own, we recommend that they don't write their own will. Even if they're in the legal field, they could end up like Warren Burger who was a Supreme Court Justice, wrote his own will, and made massive errors. He wrote a will that cost his heirs a half a million dollars.

2. Pick Beneficiaries

After we're gone, we need to figure out who gets the house, who gets the stamp collection, and who will inherit your prized racehorse. In all likelihood, your clients already have some ideas in mind of who will receive an inheritance.

On every standard form, there will be a place to add the information for heirs. Get detailed lists from your clients. They need to understand that otherwise, there could be a drawn-out legal battle.

3. Choose Your Executor

If your clients have a way that they want things to go once they're gone, they need to pick someone to handle everything. This could be a big task and if they've got a few children, they could cause some turmoil among their family.

You might want to designate a third party if your clients are afraid of causing a rift between family members. While they might think the smartest and most clever family member is the best option, if they're not familiar with the law, they could make some errors. Money could actually be lost if they fail to hire an attorney to execute even the simplest will.

4. Decide Whether To Pay Your Executor

If clients task a friend or family member with executing their will, those people usually receive a certain amount of money or compensation for that. Be clear about whether or not they are going to get anything for their time. They may not be interested in taking on such a big task for no pay.

Saying "reasonable compensation" is too loose. Don't leave any loose ends. Pick a number.

If they decide on a lawyer or bank as your executor, there will be a fee involved. Guide them as to the standard fees that people usually get for this work.

5. Choose Guardians For Kids

While they don't need to get permission from friends or family before they task someone with taking care of their children, those people also don't need to accept the kids. Have this conversation in a clear and sober way so that if something does happen to your clients while they have small children, the kids are taken care of.

No one wants the courts or the state to choose a guardian for their children.

6. Be Specific

Your clients won't be able to be in court or in a probate lawyer's office to clear up any miscommunication in the language of their will. Make sure that they take the time to be as specific as possible when they say who gets what.

If someone isn't going to receive anything, be sure to name that person, otherwise, the will could be challenged in court. Explain why someone is getting nothing from the will because otherwise, you'll create animosity between people.

7. Attach a Letter If Need Be

There are lots of examples of dramatic will and attached letter readings on TV and in movies. They can be humorous or dramatic. Typically that's not how things go in a lawyer's office, though sometimes there are sentimental and nice words.

Parents might attach a letter to children or to guardians, expressing their hope for the future of their children. If they want to say one last thing to the ones they love, there is always the opportunity to write a letter.

8. Get All The Signatures

Often witnesses and notaries who receive nothing from the will need to sign the will. They should be at least 18 years old and likely to outlive clients. If a will is contested in court, signatories may be asked to testify and describe their relationship to the deceased.

Keep the document simple so that your clients can get this step done without having to translate a lot of legalese for the people signing it.

9. Put It Someplace Safe

Once the will has been created, store the original copy in a safe or in a deposit box. Put it someplace away from your client's house if possible. The chances of a house going up in a fire with your clients and their will in it are too high of a risk to take.

Keep Your Will Updated

As people get married, divorced, or die, make sure your clients update their will regularly. Every few years, you should call clients to remind them of their will. Otherwise, send them a reminder to take a look at the will on New Year's Day every year to make sure they don't forget about making important changes.

If you're ready to set up a plan for a will, contact us for more tips on how to make sure it's legally binding.

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