Although it's an uncomfortable topic, death is a fact of life. Consequently, it's important to get your affairs in order. This means executing a will or revocable living trust. Not only do these documents allow you to dictate who will receive your estate at your death, but it gives your family peace of mind, knowing that they are carrying out your final wishes.
How to Use These Forms
The templates below can help you create either a Will or a Revocable Living Trust. These templates are designed for simple, straightforward estates. You can customize them to name who will receive your tangible, personal property and the residue (everything else). Just fill in the appropriate information and print them to sign in front of a notary. If you need help downloading the printables, check out these helpful tips.
If you are creating a Revocable Living Trust, you should also complete the Last Will and Testament template and include the name of the trust as the taker in the Residuary clause in your will.
Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust is a document created during the lifetime of the grantor (the person who creates the trust, sometimes called the trustor). The grantor acts as trustee of the trust and retains complete control of the trust's assets during his lifetime. Upon the grantor's death, the trust's remaining assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the trust, much like they are under a last will and testament.
Advantages of a Living Trust
A living trust is an attractive option for people with substantial assets, or for those who want the details of their estate to remain private. Unlike a will, revocable trusts are not subject to probate at the grantor's death, so the trust document is not made public. Also, no probate means your estate will face fewer costs, namely attorney's fees, associated with administering an estate.
Another advantage of a living trust is that it allows you to select who will manage the trust, and therefore manage your finances, in the event you become incapacitated and are unable to handle your financial affairs. If you have no documents in place and you become incapacitated, the court will have to appoint someone to handle your affairs, and there is always a chance that the person who steps forward to be appointed is not the person you would have chosen.
Disadvantages of a Living Trust
The major disadvantage of a living trust is that you must remember to transfer all of your assets to the trust. This means executing deeds to transfer ownership of your home and other real property to the trust, changing titles to vehicles, changing the owner of all checking, savings, and other investment accounts, and assigning all personal property to the trust. If you own assets in your name at your death, there is a chance your trustee will have to probate your estate to transfer these assets to the trust.
This means that even though you created a trust, you still need to execute a last will and testament just in case you forget to transfer any property to the trust. This will, known as a "pour-over will," simply leaves all property to your trust.
Keep in mind that placing assets in a revocable trust does not eliminate the need to pay federal and state estate taxes. It simply avoids the need for probate.
Last Will and Testament
A will is a legal document that outlines how the testator (the person who executed the will) wants her assets to be distributed at death. It also allows you to select a personal representative, or executor, to handle the administration of your estate. If you die without a will, state law dictates who will receive your assets, and in what proportions.
Your will must be signed by you, in front of at least two witnesses, and notarized. If you do not sign in front of witnesses, or if you do not get the will notarized, it may still be possible for your personal representative to have it admitted to probate. But it will require costly court proceedings, and there is no guarantee that the court will admit it - which means that your estate will be distributed in accordance with state law.
Advantages of a Will
For most people, a will is a relatively straightforward document. If the estate is simple - all assets to your spouse or partner, followed by your children (or a similar small set of beneficiaries), outright and not in trust - probate is unlikely to be difficult or expensive.
There is also no need to change ownership of any assets, like there is if you create a living trust. This means there are no additional costs associated with executing a will since you won't need to draft and file deeds and other ownership documents.
Disadvantages of a Will
Once admitted to probate, a will becomes a public document. This means that anybody willing to go to the local courthouse can pull your probate record and see who you left (or didn't leave) your estate to, and how much money you had.
It is also much easier to contest a will than it is a trust. The personal representative must notify the deceased's next of kin (usually the spouse and children) that the estate is being admitted to probate, and who the beneficiaries are. This is not an issue if your spouse or children are set to inherit your estate.
If your spouse or children are not set to inherit your estate, notice to the next of kin can be a problem because the notice also includes the names of the beneficiaries. Your son may not be happy to see that you left your entire estate to charity and can seek to challenge it. The trustee of a living trust, on the other hand, is not obligated to provide the deceased's next of kin with any information regarding the distribution of the trust's assets.
Getting an Estate Planning Attorney
Neither the Last Will and Testament nor the Revocable Living Trust templates create additional trusts for minors that might receive inheritance. While the document does give the personal representative or trustee the authority to create a trust to hold the minor's inheritance, if you want your child's inheritance held in trust, you should seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you draft the trust to fit your needs.
You may also wish to utilize trusts if you are married and have children from a previous marriage. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draft a trust that will allow your current spouse to benefit from your estate and have the bulk of it pass to your children at his or her death.
These templates also provide no protection to avoid or minimize federal or state estate taxes. Most simple estates will never pay estate taxes; in 2015, the federal estate tax exemption is $5.43 million, which means your estate will only pay estate taxes if its value exceeds that amount. However, if you have a sizeable estate, you will need to consult an experienced estate planning attorney.
Start Planning Now
If you want to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes when you die, you need to begin planning now. These free templates can help you get your affairs in order, and give you and your family peace of mind.