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10 Things You Should Know About Writing a Will

Who inherits the good silver is just the beginning

Who should act as a witness to a will?

Any person can act as a witness to your will, but you should select someone who isn't a beneficiary. Otherwise there's the potential for a conflict of interest. The technical term is a disinterested witness. Some states require two or more witnesses. If a lawyer drafts your will, he or she shouldn't serve as a witness.

Not all states require a will to be notarized, but some do. Check. You may also want to have your witnesses sign what's called a self-proving affidavit in the presence of a notary. This affidavit can speed up the probate process because your witnesses likely won't be called into court by a judge to validate their signatures and the authenticity of the will.

Who should I name as my executor?

You can name your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative as your executor. If your affairs are complicated, it might make more sense to name an attorney or someone with legal and financial expertise. You can also name joint executors, such as your spouse or partner and your attorney.

One of the most important things your will can do is empower your executor to pay your bills and deal with debt collectors. Make sure the wording of your will allows for this, and also gives your executor leeway to take care of any related issues that aren't specifically outlined in your will.

How do I leave specific items to specific heirs?

If you wish to leave certain personal property to certain heirs, indicate as much in your will. In addition, you can create a separate document called a letter of instruction that you should keep with your will.

A letter of instruction, which isn't legally binding in some states, can be written more informally than a will and can go into detail about which items go to whom. You can also include specifics about any number of things that will help your executor settle your estate including account numbers, passwords and even burial instructions.

Another option is to leave everything to one trusted person who knows your wishes for distributing your personal items. This, of course, is risky because you're relying on this person to honor your intentions without fail. Consider carefully.

Next: Where is the best place to keep a will? »

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