• write a legally valid will
• leave property to family, friends or organizations
• name a personal guardian to care for your children
• safely leave property to young children
• arrange for the payment of debts and taxes
• name an executor to handle your affairs
• update your will as needed
Nolo's Simple Will Book lets you choose from seven different will forms, or builds you a custom will to suit special situations. It also provides a detailed discussion of estate planning for those who may want more than a will.
Completely updated and revised, the 7th edition provides all worksheets and will forms on CD-ROM. It also includes new information on "ethical wills," which let you convey your feelings and values to loved ones. Good in all states except Louisiana.
|Edition description:||5th Edition, book w/ CD-ROM|
|Product dimensions:||8.42(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.65(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This book enables you to write your own will, valid in every state except Louisiana. If you're temporarily residing outside the United States for work, study, travel, or military service, you can also use Nolo's Simple Will Book to make a will that's valid for property you own in the U.S.
You do not have to live in the U.S. to prepare a will that is valid in this country. To prepare a valid will if you live abroad, you must follow the formal will requirements presented in this book and maintain legal residence in a U.S. state. If you live overseas temporarily because you are in the armed services, your residence is the "Home of Record" you declared to military authorities.
If you live overseas for business, education -- or just for the fun of it -- you probably still have sufficient ties with a U.S. state to make it your legal home (called your "domicile" in legalese). For example, if you were born in New York, lived in New York, and are registered to vote there, then your residence is New York for will-making purposes.
If your choice is not clear. If you do not maintain continuous ties with a particular state, or if you have well-established homes both in the U.S. and in another country, consult a lawyer before preparing your will.
Using this book, most people can safely prepare a will without hiring a lawyer. In your will you can make legally binding provisions for who gets your property -- real estate, heirlooms, and whatever else you own. You can also specify who will care for your minor children, if the need arises, and leave property for the benefit of your children. And by following the book's detailed instructionson signing and witnessing, you can be sure your will is legal.
What a Will Can Do for You
Most people know what a will does, at least in a general way -- they understand that it's a document created to make binding provisions for who receives property after death.
Estate Planning Vocabulary
"Estate" is the legal term for all the property you own. You have an estate whether you're wealthy or impoverished, as long as you own something. "Estate planning" means arranging for the transfer of your property after your death. The phrase also includes related concerns, such as providing for minor children. The planning involved can be just making a will, or it can involve more complex matters, such as creating trusts to benefit a disabled child or reduce estate taxes.
A will is the simplest estate planning device, and the easiest to prepare. If you're like many people, a will is all the estate planning you need or want, at least for a long time. Most younger people (roughly, under age 50) want to be certain their desires regarding their property will be carried out if they die; they also know that, statistically, it's highly unlikely that they'll die for decades. So they decide to postpone the cost and hassles of more complex estate planning until their autumnal years. A will is all they need for now.
Similarly, the primary estate planning goal of many younger couples is to ensure to the best of their abilities that their minor children will be well cared for -- and financially provided for -- if both parents should die together. Of course, a single parent has the same concerns. A will enables a parent to handle these matters.
Finally, many people simply don't want the bother and cost of extensive estate planning, no matter what their age or health. Fortunately, preparing a will achieves their basic goal of distributing their property as they see fit, with as little hassle now as possible. If you don't need or want comprehensive estate planning, or have been postponing or procrastinating considering it, be sure you at least have a will.
The French philosopher Rabelais wrote a one-sentence will: "I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor."
Vocabulary -- Gifts
Throughout this book, except where otherwise indicated, the word "gift" means any property you leave by your will, whether left to individuals or institutions. Sometimes, lawyers distinguish between "devises" (gifts of real estate, also called real property) and "bequests" (gifts of personal property, meaning everything but real estate). This book uses "gift" to cover both types of property.
What Your Will Can Do
When you prepare a will using this book, you can accomplish all these goals:
Leave your property, including your home, to those you choose -- your spouse, partner, children (including minor children), grandchildren, other relatives, friends, organizations, or charities.
Provide for an alternate person or organization to inherit something if the first person you pick to receive it fails to survive you.
Appoint your executor -- that is, the person who handles your property after you die and makes sure the terms of your will are carried out.
Nominate a personal guardian to care for your child or children, should you die before they reach age 18 and the other parent is unable or unwilling to care for them.
Choose someone to manage property you leave to a minor or young adult. You can select the management method you decide is best for your situation. Your choices are to set up an individual child's trust or a "family pot trust" (all property left to minor children is put in one pot), leave a gift using the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, or leave the property directly to your minor children, to be supervised by the property guardian you name in your will.
Revoke all previous wills.
Forgive debts owed to you.
Handle what happens to your property if you and your spouse die simultaneously.
Disinherit anyone you want to, except where state law restricts your power to disinherit your spouse.
Using the "Right" Language
Many people worry that the gifts they want to leave in a will they prepare themselves may not turn out to be legally binding. This worry is expressed in many ways, such as:
"I'm concerned about legal requirements. How can I leave gifts so that I know my wishes will be followed? What's the right language to use to leave my property?"
"I want to leave many specific gifts to family and friends. I have pictures, mementos, heirlooms, and antiques. How can I ensure that the proper people get them, and that no one else can claim them?"
Using the will forms in this book, you can be sure that all gifts you make in your will are legally binding. To accomplish this, you need only write your intentions in plain English. No "legalese" is required. The will forms contain all the technical language required for a valid will.
When You May Want More Estate Planning
A will is an indispensable part of any estate plan, and it's all the estate planning many people do. Other people decide they need to do some additional planning.
Here are the most common estate planning issues that prompt people to go beyond making a will:
reducing probate costs and delays (probate is the court process your will must usually go through after your death)
reducing federal estate taxes, which may affect estates worth $2 million or more, depending on the year of death
protecting your assets, as far as possible, from being depleted if you or your spouse suffers a catastrophic illness.
You may also want more than a will if you have a personal situation that requires specialized and sophisticated legal work. For example, if you have a child with a disability, you'll want to provide for that child while at the same time preserving his or her eligibility for government benefits. You can accomplish this through a special trust, which you can prepare yourself or have prepared by an expert. (See Chapter 14 for more on special needs trusts.)
Another situation in which you may need a trust is if you're married and have children from a prior marriage. However, some people in second or subsequent marriages need no more than a will. If you just want to divide your property, leaving some to your spouse and some outright to children from former marriages, a will from this book will work fine. For instance, a woman can safely use a will to leave her share of a co-owned house and an investment in a limited partnership to her husband, and leave other major items of her property, including jewelry and stocks, to her children from her first marriage.
If you want to leave property in a more complex manner, however, you'll need arrangements beyond what's possible with this book's will forms. For example, you may want to leave property for the use of your spouse during her or his life, with the property to go to your children after death of the spouse. Accomplishing this requires a trust, often called an "AB" trust. A property control trust must be drafted by a knowledgeable attorney; there are too many complexities and individual differences for a standardized, do-it-yourself form.
If you don't know now whether or not you want more than a basic will, relax. As you work through this book, you'll get a good idea of whether or not a will can satisfy all your estate planning concerns. Chapter 14 discusses estate planning issues in more detail.
More information about estate planning. All these estate planning matters, and many others, are discussed in great depth in Plan Your Estate, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
Table of Contents1.Making Your Own Will
2.An Overview of Wills
3.Special Property Rules for Married People
4.Taking Inventory of Your Property
6.Choosing Your Executor
8.Debts and Taxes
9.Choosing the Right Will Form
10.Making a Fill-in-the-Blanks Will
11.Making a Customized Will
12.Making Your Will Legal
13.Changing or Revoking Your Will
15.Lawyers and Doing Your Own Legal Research
Appendix 1. How to Use the CD-ROM
Appendix 2. Tear-Out Forms