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A legal document with instructions on how you want your stuff divided when you pass.
Instructions on handing out your stuff, naming key people like a Guardian, Executor and Beneficiaries.
Guardian - Someone you appoint to watch over your minor children (under 18) and any assets you leave for them until they turn 18.
Executor (or Will Agent) - Someone who follows the instructions in your Will, including handing out your assets, collecting any debts and paying any bills or taxes.
Beneficiary - Person (or people) who receives your stuff. For example, if you leave a car for your son in your Will, then he’s a beneficiary.
The legal requirement for a Will varies by state. In California, for example, anyone who has personal property worth $150,000 or owns a house (or other real estate) needs to have a Will to distribute that property.
The government has a process for handing out your assets and a court will decide who takes custody of your minor children.
You can change your Will by adding to it (called a “Codicil”) or replacing it entirely (called “Revoking”). Handwritten edits to your Will may not be legally valid and, in that case, won’t be enforced.
Revoking your Will means you don’t want it to be enforced. If you revoke your Will and don’t replace it, then you won’t have a Will.
Estate planning is planning for your family’s future when you pass. Failing to plan can have bad financial and personal consequences for your family. For example, if you have minor children, it can leave them without resources or delay access to your assets. If you own a house, you could pay unnecessary taxes or lose control of how your assets are transferred.
Estate planning can include thinking through legal, financial and personal plans for taking care of yourself and your loved ones. Legal documents and articles from our partner FamilyWise can help. For complicated estates, it is best to consult an attorney.
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