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How to Review Your Will to Make Sure It Is Complete

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

At the Racine law office our team of premier Idaho estate planning attorneys have helped clients create and update their Idaho estate plans for more than 70 years. Our goal is to understand the specific needs each client has and then craft an estate plan that will meet those needs. The most important thing is that we do not use a cookie cutter approach with our clients when it comes to completing their written last will and testament. While there are some basic things in a written last will and testament that everybody needs, most of the content will depend upon each individual person, their loved ones, the assets they own, and the goals they want to accomplish.

Because of our expertise, we often have new clients come to us and bring us the written will they either created on their own or that another attorney prepared for them. Usually the reason for doing this is that a good deal of time has gone by, or the circumstances in the lives of our client have changed and our client recognizes that they may need to update their estate planning documents. Usually these clients will tell us they want us to review their estate plan for them and let them know if they need to change anything. Sometimes the documents they bring to us are simple and straightforward. However, sometimes the documents they provide to us come in a thick impressive looking binder with lots of tabs.

At the Racine law office we firmly believe that a person's estate planning, including their written will should do everything that they want and nothing more. In other words, our goal is to keep the estate planning documents for our clients as simple as possible while still accomplishing everything that our client wants.

If you have your own written last will and testament, and you are wondering if it is complete, below is a checklist I use when I'm reviewing a will for a client. By answering these basic questions, you will know whether your current written will is complete.

Does Your Will Have the Basic Information?

The first question is whether your written will has the basic information that is needed. What do we mean by basic information? The basic information that every written will should have includes identifying who you are with your full legal name. The full legal names of your spouse and children should also be listed. If there are any other beneficiaries that you want to leave any of your money, property, or assets to, their full written legal name as well as their residence should be listed.

Additional basic information would include a written instruction that all of your bills and debts need to be paid before any distributions of your property are made to others. The law in Idaho already requires this but having this information in your written will helps your family and loved ones understand the process that occurs when your estate is distributed after you pass away.

The final basic information that should be included in your written will are any instructions that you want to have your family and loved ones carry out that can be done sometime after your death. It is not wise to put in your written will that you want to be cremated, or to specify the location where you want to be buried. The reason for this is that often family will take care of these details long before they ever read what you have written in your last will and testament. It's for this reason that rather than putting immediate instructions in your written will you should have a letter of instructions that you provide to your family and loved ones or that you keep in an conspicuous place and tell your family about prior to your death.

Does Your Will Make Appointments?

The next question you should ask yourself is whether your last will and testament makes the appointments that need to be done. The basic appointment that is made in a will is that of a personal representative or executor. This is the person who actually takes care of your estate and carries out the instructions that are left in your will.

When you identify a personal representative in your will you should use their full legal name and possibly list the residence of where this person lives. This is especially true if the person you are naming is not a family member. It is also helpful if you identify this person as your brother, son, friend, or use some other term so that individuals who are close to you can identify who this person is.

A personal representative is not the only appointment that can be made in a will. Depending on how your will is structured, and your circumstances, you may also use a last will and testament to appoint a guardian for your minor aged children. Additionally, it's possible that you can use your last will and testament to name a trustee who will care for a testamentary trust that you may be creating.

Does Your Will Make Gifts?

The next most important thing to look for in your written last will and testament is whether it actually makes any gifts. The major purpose of a written will is to give you the opportunity to make gifts or distributions from the money, property, and assets in your estate to other people. For these gifts to be valid, they need to be precise enough that they can be understood. For instance, a well-crafted gift in a last will and testament would read as follows: “I hereby leave my Babe Ruth baseball collection to my son Charlie.”

If your written last will and testament fails to make any specific gifts or fails to distribute all of the property in your estate, it's possible that the laws of intestacy may also apply so that a full distribution of your estate can be made. In other words, if you leave several specific gifts to others but you do not have any language in your written will that disposes of the rest of your estate, the laws in Idaho will decide who will receive all of your remaining property.

Does Your Will Satisfy Idaho’s Legal Requirements?

The final thing we check for when we are reviewing a written last will and testament is whether it satisfies all of the legal requirements in order for it to be valid. The document should be typed, dated, and signed by you with your full legal name. Additionally, a formally written will should be witnessed by at least two people and should also be notarized.

We also check to see if the written last will and testament revokes all prior wills and codicils that could exist. If this language is not included in your will, it's possible that all of your previously written wills could still be valid and would work together with your current will to determine how your estate will be divided.

In order to make sure that your last will and testament is valid we encourage you to discuss it with a qualified estate planning attorney. We have helped numerous clients in the creation or review of their last will and testament. We are confident that we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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