Guidelines for Writing a Last Will and Testament

Writing a last will and testament is crucial for informing your surviving relatives and other loved ones your intentions for what should be done about your assets and property. Tragically, 55 percent of Americans die without having a will or a plan for their estates. If you’ve never made a last will and testament, here are some important guidelines.

What Can Be Included in a Last Will and Testament?

The main purpose of a will is for leaving specific directions as to what should occur, regarding your property after you die. A will can also be used to name an executor, as well as guardians for children. Wills can determine the way debts and taxes should be paid. They can also be a backup for a living trust. Furthermore, a last will and testament can include provisions for pets.

What Should Not Be Included?

There are also items that should not be included in a will. For example, don’t use a will to leave instructions for your funeral. Although a will can be used to assign a person to care for pets, you shouldn’t use it for leaving your property to them.

Don’t place stipulations on the gifts that you leave to people, such as stating that you’ll leave your home to a grandchild, provided that he or she graduates from college.

Who Should Be Your Executor?

It’s critical that you assign a capable person to be the executor of your estate. Failing to name an executor in a will can result in the courts appointing one who may not carry out your intentions.

Often, people designate a surviving spouse to serve as the executor of their estate because most spouses know about their family assets and are motivated for an estate to be settled.

You could also ask a competent friend or relative to be your executor. Just be sure they’re qualified and are likely to survive you. In other words, it’s probably not a good idea to use a sibling who’s close to your age and could die before you do.


Although it’s commonly believed that wills don’t have to undergo probate proceedings, this is a myth. It can take several months for probate proceedings, but when you have a will, the process is quicker. This is because your attorneys, loved ones and the probate court have to do the job of dividing up your property.

If you want to avoid probate, there are other methods to do so, such as leaving your property to a trust fund in which a desired recipient is named as a beneficiary, rather than directly giving the property to this individual.

Other Considerations and Warnings

Your last will and testament may need updating, but the decision to do so is up to you. Common reasons to update a will are changes in your life, such as a marriage or divorce. The birth or adoption of a child is another reason. Just keep in mind that the only version that is valid is the one that is current when you die.

Although some couples have joint wills, rather than a common will, this isn’t recommended. In fact, joints wills aren’t even recognized in some states. Consider that it’s highly unlikely that you and your spouse will die simultaneously.

You can make arrangements for the needs for disable people or those with special needs, but don’t do this in your will. Instead, use a special needs trust or another type of trust that outlines specific guidelines on managing the needs of special needs individuals.

If you need help writing a will, don’t hesitate to call Kyle R. Bailey, Attorney at Law. Our Minneapolis law firm has a wide range of services, focusing on wills, estate planning, trusts, probate, medical assistance, powers of attorney, real estate law and health care planning. Please contact us.