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1. Probate. A Last Will and Testament ("Will") is part of the probate process. If you use a Will as your primary estate planning document, then your estate passes through probate after you pass away. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The probate process has many good qualities. However, you need to keep in mind that Wills and probate go together.

2. What Wills Do Best. First and foremost, a Will gives you a single document where you can see the entire plan for your family- who gets the estate, who is in charge and what happens if things change. Most people think of their estate as a unified whole rather than a collection of independent, disjointed pieces and people. A Will fits right into that view and lays everything out in one convenient and comprehensive document.

3. It Has Limits. A Will does not control life insurance policies, retirement plans and assets with a payable on death designation. All of these other arrangements supersede or trump the terms of a Will. If your Will and your beneficiary designation contradict each other, the Will loses the battle. If you use any of these arrangements the burden is on you to make sure that they match up.

4. Young Families and Young Children. The parents of young children must contemplate how their children would be cared for if a tragic accident took their lives. It is little comfort to know that the court system will appoint a guardian to care for the children. Parents want to control who the guardian is so that they know the values and environment that will surround their children as they grow and mature. A Will gives parents their only opportunity to have their voice heard. A Will directs the courts to appoint a guardian that the parents choose.

5. How Old is Too Old? Many people have Wills that were signed 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. How often should these old Wills be re-written? Most Wills are carefully prepared and include contingencies for things like the children growing up, the children getting married and arrival of grandchildren on the scene. Thus most Wills can weather the mere passage of time. It is important to remember that at the heart of a Will are the decisions and choices that you make regarding everything from who will be the executor to what charities will be involved in the estate. Many of these decisions are not affected by passing years. Some of your choices may need to be changed after only one year, while others can remain solid for a lifetime. The key is to read the Will from time to time and think about the choices that you make. The Will needs to be changed when the decisions stated in the document are out of step with what you want for your family now.

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This is not legal advice or tax advice, pursuant to disclaimer.
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