Many people put off making a will until it’s too late. According to the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education, unofficial estimates of the percentage of Americans who never write a will range from 50% to 75% of the population!  Dying without a will can result in a court battle.  The best way to tackle “will-avoidance” is to convince yourself that spelling out your wishes in a will is a gift you give to others. Dying “intestate”  (without a will) may result in unnecessary hassles for your heirs, on top of the pain of the grieving process.  Doing your will now eliminates the expense and potential bad feelings that can result.  Your will also ensures that you make the decisions about who gets what, not the state probate court system.

Starting is easy.  Choose an executor to settle your estate according to your wishes. Most attorneys recommend designating two executors, in case one does not want to or is unable to serve later.  Talk to your choices and make sure your chosen executors are willing to serve. If at all possible, hire a lawyer to prepare a will rather than write one on your own because to be valid, a will must comply strictly with state law.  For example, in New Jersey, a will must have at least two witnesses, both the individual drafting the will and the witnesses must be present at the signing of the will, and each witness must see the others sign.

After making your will, keep it in a safe place — like a fireproof safe in your house or with your lawyer — but not a safe deposit box in the bank.  A bank safe deposit box can’t be opened until your executor is appointed and the will (the document locked in the box) is what he needs to be appointed in the first place.  Also, remember to revise your will if circumstances change. Keeping a will current is just as important as drafting one in the first place. Major life events such as marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, a death in the family, or a change in your assets or estate law are examples of circumstances in which you may need to revise your will.

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