suggest that people have it drawn up by an attorney. There are so many nuances, from one state to another, that you need professional guidance.”
The expense does not need to be excessive, either. “Many employers,” says Brackens, “offer flexible benefits plans that include legal advice, often on a discounted basis. This can cover the preparation of a will.”
Jeffrey Collins, an attorney and CPA with Blackman Kallick L.P., an accounting and consulting firm in Chicago, says that simpler wills generally range from $200 to $500. In addition to an attorney, Collins suggests using a financial adviser and accountant to help collaborate on your will. “If you start adding all the bells and whistles, it will drive the cost up,” he warns, “but you’ll want to cover current wishes and forecast future needs of loved ones as part of a comprehensive estate plan.”
In addition to a will, your estate plan should include documents such as a healthcare proxy (this designates the individual who will make healthcare decisions for you and the specific treatments you want) and/or a living will (this spells out the specific healthcare treatment you want if you are near death or incapacitated). Check out The Five Wishes (www.aging withdignity.org/5wishes.html), a healthcare directive that is accepted in 37 states.
It is critical to have a will and healthcare proxy in place because, as Brackens explains, “If you don’t have these documents, and you can’t make these decisions yourself, someone will be named [by the state]. That person may be regarded with suspicion by family members if you have not made your wishes clear.”
The Brooks family agrees. “When you’re married,” says Michelle, “it’s especially important to have a will and estate plan. That puts you both on the same page as to what you want to do with your money, and reduces the chances you’ll have problems in that area.”
ELECTING AN EXECUTOR
When you draft your will, you’ll do more than describe how your assets will be distributed after your death. You’ll also name an executor (called a “personal representative” in some areas). Your executor will be responsible for handling the disposition of the assets that pass under your will.
“We generally recommend that a trusted family member or trusted friend be named,” says Cheryl Holland, president of Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, South Carolina. “Married couples often name each other. After the death of a spouse, serving as personal representative can help the survivor deal with his or her new circumstances.”
Your executor could also be an adult son or daughter, a niece or nephew, or someone who’s not related. The key consideration is trustworthiness. “You’ll want someone who is organized, thorough, and responsible,” says Holland. Your executor will have to track down your assets, make sure the title is transferred per your wishes, report to the appropriate court, and see that the necessary tax returns are filed.
You should explain what the responsibilities would be and gain the person’s consent before naming someone as executor to your will. Name a successor, too, in