You know why it’s important to have a will, you know what will happen should you die without a will, and you’ve decided whether or not to hire a lawyer. Now it’s time to write your will. But where do you begin?
Evaluating your estate
Start by evaluating your estate. The first step in writing a will is to figure out what your estate consists of. Having a list of everything important you own will make it easier to decide what needs to be addressed in your will. If you are working with a lawyer for estate planning, this list will save you time and money.
What should I include on my list?
This is a list of items typically included in estate planning. You may not have all of these and you could have items that are not included here. Remember to write down the value of each item.
• Life insurance policies, face value (policy amount) and cash values
• 401 (k) plans, retirement funds, IRAs, Keoghs, annuities, etc.
• Bank Accounts, Savings bonds, CDs
• Investments—Stock and money market accounts, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
• Business interests and property
• Real estate and buildings
• Cars, motorcycles and recreational vehicles, boats, aircraft, etc.
• Patents, copyrights, and royalties
• Household furnishings and possessions—Furniture, appliances, electronics, artwork, hobby items, clothing, collections, jewelry
• Debts others owe you
• Any debts of significant value that you owe
How should I list my possessions?
It is not necessary to list every item individually. Instead of listing your hammer, screwdriver, and pliers individually, you can just say “tools”—unless you really do want to give each tool to a different person. If you do not plan to give many individual gifts, you can be even more general and use descriptions like “all household goods at 123 Second Street.” For expensive items like houses or stocks, it is a good idea to list each item separately.
Wherever possible, include a detailed description of each item on your list so that someone else can easily identify the asset. For example, instead of just writing “savings account“, give all the details: write “savings account #123-45-678 at Big Bucks Bank on 321 First Street.”
If an item will pass outside your will, such as by joint tenancy or under a beneficiary designation, be sure to note that on your list.
A note about values. Be honest when listing the values of your assets. The only valuation that counts is “fair market value,” that is, what a willing buyer would pay for the asset. Book value, purchase value (basis), or assessed values are not fair market value. (When you add up all the fair market values, you may be pleasantly surprised!)
For more information about evaluating your estate and access to usable form templates check out the Colorado Will and Estate Planner.