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Getting started with a will

You've never written a will, but one of your adult children recently suggested that you do it. They have children of their own -- your grandchildren -- and they just made an estate plan. They decided they should talk to you about doing your own estate planning.

You agree with them, and you want to get started. But what do you need to know? Here are a few key things to consider:

  • You can start by choosing an executor. After you pass away, this person executes your estate plan by reading the will, distributing your assets, taking care of debts and much more.
  • You can then choose beneficiaries. These are just the people who get your assets. It can be simple: Leave everything to your children. It can be more complex, with trusts or funds to leave money to charity. It's up to you.
  • The more specific you get, the better. A nonspecific will -- such as just saying everything should get split 50/50 between your two children -- can lead to disputes. What if they both want the same asset, like a painting or the family home, and can't split it? When you're more specific, you can dictate exactly what you want and prevent these types of issues for your heirs.

This just touches on the very basics of writing a will. It's the foundation. This is not all that your estate plan can do. There are many financial tools to consider, such as trusts, life insurance policies and the like. Once you get started, it's time to look into all of these options.

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