Wills & Trusts

Whether you have a lot or a little, preserving you legacy matters!

Will are established to:

Choose loving guardians for your children
Leave your property to family and friends
Get the care you want in a medical emergency
Save thousands in legal fees and avoid complications

One must under stand the options available to their needs and the needs of their family. One must concern the needs of today as well as preparing for the needs of the future:

Last Will and Testament

Identifies who should receive your property, defines who you want to carry out your wishes and names guardians if you have minor children. All wills must be approved by a court after you pass away.

Revocable Living Trust

Determines who should manage and receive your property after you pass away without the cost and hassle of waiting for court approval of your will.

Living Will

Describes your preferences for care in a medical emergency and names someone to carry out your health care wishes. This document is sometimes called an advance directive, health care directive, or medical power of attorney.

Home Transfer Deed

Specifies who should receive your home after you pass away without the cost and hassle of waiting for court approval.

Power of Attorney

Names someone you trust to manage your finances if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. A power of attorney is only valid while you are alive.


What Is a Will?

A will is a written document—signed and witnessed—that indicates how your property will be distributed at the time of your death. It is revocable and subject to amendment at any time during your lifetime. It also allows you to appoint a guardian for your minor children. 

How to Write a Will
[Michelle Fabio, Esq.] by  Michelle Fabio, Esq. 
Freelance writer 

No one likes to think about their own death, but preparing end-of-life documents, such as a last will and testament, can give you great peace of mind now, knowing your wishes will be followed when you're gone.

Still, getting together a last will can seem like a daunting task, and maybe you aren't exactly sure how to write a will, the most basic of estate planning documents you should have.

The good news is that writing a will doesn't have to be complicated or even take a long time. Although, in the past, most people consulted a lawyer to make a will, these days, making wills online has never been easier.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of how to make a will, though, let's talk a bit more about why you should have one and what you should be thinking about as you prepare this all-important document.

Do I Need a Will?

A will is a legal document that details what you want done with your possessions after your death and, to put it simply: Yes, you need a will.

Even if you think you don't have many assets or that your estate will automatically go where you want upon your death through your state's intestacy laws (which kick in when someone dies without a will), making a will can assure that your exact preferences will be followed after your death.

You'll also be doing your loved ones a favor, as they won't have to guess what you might have wanted.

Within your will, you, as the testator, will name an executor to be in charge of distributing your estate according to your instructions. You also may name a guardian for any minor children or other dependents. Without either of these provisions in a will, a judge would be the one to decide who handles your estate and, even more concerning, who cares for your children.

If you have beloved pets, your will also is an excellent place to provide for their care after your death.

A will does not take effect until your death, but, afterwards, it becomes part of the public record as it goes through probate, the court-supervised process of closing out a deceased person's estate.

Five Steps to Write Your Own Will

1. Gather Your Information.

As you prepare to do your own will, you should consider the following:

Executor—who you want to be in charge of distributing your estate; the executor should, of course, be someone you trust
Assets—all real property (real estate) and personal property (vehicles, bank accounts, family heirlooms, etc.)
Debts and taxes—any amounts your estate may need to pay out
Beneficiaries—the people you want to receive your assets, including their full names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers
Guardian—the person you choose to take care of your children and their property in the event of the deaths of both parents, as well as an alternative choice should that person be unable to take on the responsibility
Pet care—who you want to take care of your pet, as well as any funds you would like to set aside for your pet's care

2. Write the Will.

At this point, you may be wondering whether you need a lawyer to write a will.

No, you don't, and, in fact, online wills have become increasingly popular in recent years. Online wills are often quick and easy to create and are also legally valid so long as they are executed according to your state's laws.

Beginning with a simple questionnaire that you can fill out in just minutes, you can start to make your own will with the help of an online service such as LegalZoom's Last Will and Testament.

Other options for writing your own will include using will templates generated by will software or fill-in-the-blank forms.

No matter which method you choose, you will be well prepared because you have already considered many of the issues you will need to address while gathering the information during Step 1.

3. Make Sure the Will Is Legal.

Because laws concerning wills vary by state, it is important that you know what your state requires in order to make a will valid. If you use LegalZoom's Last Will and Testament, you can be sure that LegalZoom's team of experienced attorneys has designed all last wills to meet the specific laws and requirements of each U.S. state.

Generally, though, for most states, in order to execute a valid will, you need to be of sound mind and over the age of 18; sign the will; and, often, have witnesses sign it as well. These witnesses should also provide their full names and addresses in case they need to be contacted in the future regarding the will.

4. Copy and Store Your Will.

Once you have your completed, executed will, you should make a copy and store both the original and copy in a safe place such as a fireproof lockbox or filing cabinet. You should also let your loved ones know where the documents are and how to find them after your death in order to make probating the will easier.

5. Keep Your Will Up to Date.

Remember that your will can be changed and updated at any time, so you should plan to revisit it at least yearly to make sure it still reflects your wishes. Any time that there is a change in your family situation—such as a divorce or the birth of a grandchild—is a good time to review your will.

Knowing how to make a will is half the battle, right? Now all you need to do is follow through. So, get to it!

Everyone knows they should have a will, but the vast majority – about 70% of us – do not.  Writing a will is easy and inexpensive, and once you are done you can rest easy knowing your hard earned money and property will be distributed according to your wishes.  As well, if you have children, you can leave instructions on who will be left in charge of them if you pass, leaving that decision out of the courts hands.  Making a will is easy, you just need to be at least 18 years of age and must be of sound mind when the will is written.  To make a will legal it must:

  • Expressly state that it is your will
  • Be computer generated or typewritten
  • Be signed and dated
  • Be signed by 2-3 witnesses, these witnesses must be people who don’t stand to inherit anything in the will

Although you do not need a lawyer to complete a will, it is recommended to do one with a lawyer, as it will avoid any legal headaches after your passing.  Once your will is complete, it’s recommended that it is kept somewhere safe and secure outside of your home.  If you do your will through a lawyer, most law firms will store it for you free of charge.  Many people keep their wills in a safety deposit box at a bank, but this is not recommended as the contents could be sealed at the time of death. The executor of your will should be aware of the location of it.


What Is a Trust?

A trust is traditionally used for minimizing estate taxes and can offer other benefits as part of a well-crafted estate plan.

A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. Trusts can be arranged in many ways and can specify exactly how and when the assets pass to the beneficiaries.

Since trusts usually avoid probate, your beneficiaries may gain access to these assets more quickly than they might to assets that are transferred using a will. Additionally, if it is an irrevocable trust, it may not be considered part of the taxable estate, so fewer taxes may be due upon your death.

Assets in a trust may also be able to pass outside of probate, saving time, court fees, and potentially reducing estate taxes as well.

Other benefits of trusts include:

Control of your wealth. You can specify the terms of a trust precisely, controlling when and to whom distributions may be made. You may also, for example, set up a revocable trust so that the trust assets remain accessible to you during your lifetime while designating to whom the remaining assets will pass thereafter, even when there are complex situations such as children from more than one marriage.
Protection of your legacy. A properly constructed trust can help protect your estate from your heirs' creditors or from beneficiaries who may not be adept at money management.
Privacy and probate savings. Probate is a matter of public record; a trust may allow assets to pass outside of probate and remain private, in addition to possibly reducing the amount lost to court fees and taxes in the process.

Basic types of trusts:

Marital or "A" trust - Designed to provide benefits to a surviving spouse; generally included in the taxable estate of the surviving spouse

Bypass or "B" trust - Also known as credit shelter trust, established to bypass the surviving spouse's estate in order to make full use of any federal estate tax exemption for each spouse

Testamentary trust - Outlined in a will and created through the will after the death, with funds subject to probate and transfer taxes; often continues to be subject to probate court supervision thereafter

Irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) - Irrevocable trust designed to exclude life insurance proceeds from the deceased’s taxable estate while providing liquidity to the estate and/or the trusts' beneficiaries

Charitable lead trust - Allows certain benefits to go to a charity and the remainder to your beneficiaries

Charitable remainder trust - Allows you to receive an income stream for a defined period of time and stipulate that any remainder go to a charity

Generation-skipping trust - Using the generation-skipping tax exemption, permits trust assets to be distributed to grandchildren or later generations without incurring either a generation-skipping tax or estate taxes on the subsequent death of your children

Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) trust - Used to provide income for a surviving spouse. Upon the spouse’s death, the assets then go to additional beneficiaries named by the deceased. Often used in second marriage situations, as well as to maximize estate and generation-skipping tax or estate tax planning flexibility

Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) - Irrevocable trust funded by gifts by its grantor; designed to shift future appreciation on quickly appreciating assets to the next generation during the grantor's lifetime


Revocable vs. Irrevocable 

There are many types of trusts; a major distinction between them is whether they are revocable or irrevocable.

Revocable trust: Also known as a living trust, a revocable trust can help assets pass outside of probate, yet allows you to retain control of the assets during your (the grantor's) lifetime. It is flexible and can be dissolved at any time, should your circumstances or intentions change. A revocable trust typically becomes irrevocable upon the death of the grantor.

You can name yourself trustee (or co-trustee) and retain ownership and control over the trust, its terms and assets during your lifetime, but make provisions for a successor trustee to manage them in the event of your incapacity or death.

Although a revocable trust may help avoid probate, it is usually still subject to estate taxes. It also means that during your lifetime, it is treated like any other asset you own.

Irrevocable trust: An irrevocable trust typically transfers your assets out of your (the grantor's) estate and potentially out of the reach of estate taxes and probate, but cannot be altered by the grantor after it has been executed. Therefore, once you establish the trust, you will lose control over the assets and you cannot change any terms or decide to dissolve the trust.

An irrevocable trust is generally preferred over a revocable trust if your primary aim is to reduce the amount subject to estate taxes by effectively removing the trust assets from your estate. Also, since the assets have been transferred to the trust, you are relieved of the tax liability on the income generated by the trust assets (although distributions will typically have income tax consequences). It may also be protected in the event of a legal judgment against you.

Deciding on a trust - State laws vary significantly in the area of trusts and should be considered before making any decisions about a trust. Consult your attorney for details.