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-- Posted: April 12, 2000

Dorothy Rosen -- The Dollar Diva Ask the Dollar Diva

What is a will?

Dear Dollar Diva,
What is a will?

A will is a document that states what you want to have happen after you die:

  • Who you want to finish raising your minor children.
  • Who will get your money and things.
  • Who will be in charge of making sure your wishes are carried out.
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Many young people agonize over the child custody decision and put off writing a will because of it. No one is going to be the perfect guardian, and no one is going to be able to take your place. That said, you owe it to your children to get over the agonizing, and get on with the business of writing the will. If you and your spouse die without a will, your child's destiny will be in the hands of the state. Parents are supposed to do better than that.

Basic rules for making a will

  • You must be of legal age (usually 18 years old) and mentally competent.

  • Put it in writing and make it letter perfect, which is to say no whiteout or erasing allowed.

  • You can accompany your written will with a video version, but don't think of it as a substitute. Its main purpose would be to show that you were of sound mind when you signed the written will.

  • Change it as often as your life circumstances change; it's not written in stone.

  • State what the document is: your last will and testament, prepared by you while you were of sound mind and body. Also state that it supersedes any prior wills you may have made.

  • Name a guardian for your children and for their money and possessions.

  • Stipulate where the money to pay taxes, debts and your funeral should come from.

  • Have it signed by two witnesses. Make sure the witnesses are not included as beneficiaries in the will. By signing the will, they could lose what you wanted them to inherit.

  • You don't have to put dollar amounts in a will, in fact you shouldn't. Percentages are fine.

  • Name an executor, someone who will make sure your wishes as stated in the will are carried out.

Drawing up a proper will is too important to do without legal assistance. The Diva recommends that you make a list of what you want included in your will; then take it to an attorney to have it written up in the proper form. He will also make sure you haven't left anything out.

For more on wills, click on "The importance of a will" and "How to plan a will."

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