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Living Trusts and Wills, Part Two

On Tuesday, we started a discussion on living trusts and personal wills, comparing the two estate planning tools. Today, we're going to take a closer look at personal wills - one of the most well known estate planning tools out there.

The important thing to remember about wills, as we touched on in our last post, is the fact that they do not go into effect until you have passed away. At that point, the will proceeds to the court for probate, which is a process used to determine the validity of the document.

This is why it is absolutely imperative for you, should you create a will, to create something that is clear and descriptive. The more work you do up front, tallying assets and designating beneficiaries, the easier it will be for the court to confirm your wishes.

After probate, the executor of your will (usually appointed by the will's creator) will manage the distribution of assets according to your direction. He or she can also pay off any outstanding debt you may have, though you must include this provision in the document.

Why You Might Want a Will

Like anything, wills have their upsides and downsides. For most, the biggest downside to having a will is the fact that it must be probated. As mentioned, if the will is less than clear, probate can be an expensive, time-intensive process.

However, for some, the visibility afforded to probate hearings is a good thing. The court will oversee any challenges to the will and field disputes regarding your directives. If you are concerned about the potential for such a disagreement, probate may not be so bad.

Along the same lines, personal wills become public records following your death.

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