Planning Your Estate with WillMaker

Estate planning is the process of arranging for what will happen to your property when you die. (Whatever you own at your death is called your estate.) It can also include:

  • making arrangements for the care of your young children in the event of your death
  • planning for your own care and the care of your property in case someday you can't make decisions on your own taking steps so that your inheritors can avoid probate court proceedings after your death, and if you own a very large amount of property, planning to avoid federal or state estate tax.

We can help you with all of these issues, and a few others as well. What follows is a discussion of the legal documents you can create with WillMaker, so you can see what they accomplish and decide whether or not they fit your situation.

Your Will

Perhaps the most essential reason to make an estate plan is to have a say about who gets your property when you die. A will is the easiest way to do this.

If you don't use a will or some other legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law determines what happens to your possessions. (See Dying Without a Will.)

In addition to specifying who will inherit your property, you can also use your will to:

  • name alternates, in case your first choices die before you do
  • choose an executor—someone you trust to oversee the distribution of your property after your death name a guardian to raise your young children if you can't, and
  • name a trusted adult to manage the property that a child or young adult inherits from you. WillMaker gives you several ways to handle this.

Property That Doesn't Pass Through a Will

Usually, you cannot use a will to leave certain kinds of assets, including:

  • property you leave through a living trust
  • bank accounts for which you have named a pay-on-death beneficiary
  • stocks and bonds or vehicles for which you have named a transfer-on-death beneficiary
  • real estate left through a transfer-on-death deed
  • property owned as "community property with right of survivorship," which automatically goes to the survivor when one co-owner dies
  • property owned in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety, which
  • automatically goes to the surviving owners at your death, and
  • retirement accounts (IRAs and 401(k) plans) and some pension funds that go to the beneficiary you named in forms provided by the account custodian.

Other Ways to Leave Property

A will is not the only way—and, in some cases, not the best way—to transfer ownership of your property when you die. Especially if you are older and own a fair amount of property, you should consider whether it makes sense to plan now to help your inheritors avoid time-consuming and expensive probate court proceedings after your death. If you have a very large estate, you may also want to think about avoiding federal or state estate tax. To learn more about using a will as part of a larger estate plan, read When You Need More Than a Will.

Living Trust

Consider using a living trust if you want your property to avoid probate after you die. Any property that passes through a living trust can be transferred directly to beneficiaries without going through probate court, often saving time and money. But not everyone needs a living trust.

Those with simple or small estates may find that the benefits of keeping property out of probate do not justify the hassle of creating a living trust, transferring property and maintaining the trust. And it's possible that a large amount of your property will pass to your beneficiaries without the need for a trust—for example, your retirement accounts and proceeds from your life insurance.

Your decision about whether to make a living trust depends on your personal circumstances and preferences. Read

When You Need More Than a Will to help you make this decision and then read Naming a Trust as Beneficiary to learn about the pros and cons of using your will to "pour over" property from your will into your living trust.

You can start an individual or shared living trust on the Your Documents screen.

Transfer on Death Deed

In more than half of the U.S. states, you can use a transfer on death (TOD) deed to name a beneficiary for real estate, like your home. The property transfers to your beneficiary when you die, without probate. Before your death, you still own the property, and you can revoke the deed (or make a new one) at any time.

Transfer on death deeds provide some of the best features of both wills and living trusts. Like living trusts, TOD deeds keep the property out of probate. Like wills, they are simple to make, revise, and revoke. So for many people, particularly those whose largest asset is their house, transfer on death deeds can replace the need for a living trust. (You'll still almost certainly need a will.)

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

It's a good idea for almost everyone with property or an income to make a durable power of attorney for finances. It's particularly important, however, if you fear that health problems may make it impossible for you to handle your financial matters.

Making a durable financial power of attorney ensures that someone you trust will be on hand to manage the many practical, financial tasks that will arise if you become incapacitated. For example, bills must be paid, bank deposits must be made and someone must handle insurance and benefits paperwork. Many other matters may need attention as well, from property repairs to managing investments or a small business. In most cases, a durable power of attorney for finances is the best way to take care of tasks like these. If you ever need to revoke your power of attorney, use the revocation form that prints with your document. Or, if you want to revoke a previously made power of attorney, you can use the Revocation of Power of Attorney accessible from the All Documents screen.

Health Care Directives (Living Will and Power of Attorney)

It's vitally important that those close to you understand the kind of medical treatment you would—or would not—want if you were unable to speak for yourself. You can use a WillMaker health care directive to describe your health care wishes and name a trusted person to oversee them. The person you name can also make other necessary health care decisions for you if you are too ill or injured to direct your own care.

The program helps you prepare documents that are legal in your state. Depending on where you live, you may get a single document (often called an advance health care directive) or two separate documents (typically called a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care). If you ever need to revoke your health care directive, use the revocation form that prints with your document. Or, if you want to revoke a previously made health care directive, you can use the Revocation of Health Care Directive accessible from the All Documents screen.

Final Arrangements Document

As you create your estate planning documents, your thoughts may turn to how you want your body to be handled after your death.

With our final arrangements document, you can let your loved ones know whether you wish to be buried or cremated, what kind of memorial ceremonies you have in mind and other details related to the final disposition of your body. During a difficult time, this document can provide much needed guidance for your survivors.

Information for Caregivers and Survivors

With our Information for Caregivers and Survivors form, you can create a comprehensive guide to the details of your life, from information about your bank accounts to people you'd like contacted in the event of your illness or death.

When you prepare this form, the program will walk you through the particulars of your life, asking you to provide details on many topics, including things your loved ones may not know—such as the names

of your doctors, whether you have life insurance, or how to access your online accounts. The result of this interview will be a document that will greatly aid those who need to care for you or manage your estate.

Letter to Survivors

When working on your estate plan, you may find that you want to explain certain things to your loved ones. For example, you may want to let them know why you left a large gift to charity, why you named your sister (and not your brother) to look after your child's finances, or where you keep important papers or passwords. Or maybe you simply want to leave some thoughts about your life.

One way to convey these things is to write a letter that will be passed on to your loved ones when you die. The letter can be in any format you like, from a handwritten note to a more formal typed letter. If you'd like some help, try WillMaker's Letter to Survivors. It prompts you about many types of information—you pick and choose the topics that you want to write about. Type in your thoughts and ideas, and WillMaker will compile them into a letter for you.

If you want to make a Letter to Survivors, you'll find it on the All Documents screen.

Documents for Executors

WillMaker offers a number of documents that you can use if you are named as someone's executor—and you can let your own executor know that these forms are available on your computer when they're needed.

An executor, called a personal representative in some states, is the person you name in your will to handle your affairs after you die. Your executor will pay your debts and taxes and then distribute your property to your beneficiaries, as your will directs. If someone dies without naming an executor, a court will appoint someone to take the job.

Here is a brief description of each of the documents for executors that you can make with WillMaker.

Executor's Checklist

If you have been named the executor of an estate, you'll want to know what kind of tasks you are expected to perform. The Executor's Checklist is a good introduction.

Of course, every estate (and state) is different. An executor's tasks depend on the size of the estate, the kinds of property the deceased person owned and other factors, such as the needs and expectations of the family. State laws governing the administration of estates also vary.

Executor's Letter to Financial Institution

As the executor or administrator of someone's estate, your tasks include locating and making an inventory of all of the deceased person's property. One category of property you must investigate is bank and other financial accounts held by the deceased. You can use this form to write to financial institutions to find out what accounts or loans the deceased had with that institution, as well as to learn what those accounts were worth at the time of death.

Affidavit of Domicile

An Affidavit of Domicile (sometimes called an Affidavit of Residence) is one of the documents used by an executor to transfer ownership of stock or other securities from the name of the deceased person to the new owner. The purpose of the Affidavit of Domicile is to establish the state of residence of the stockholder (in this case, the deceased person).

Employee Death Benefits Letter

An executor must contact each of the deceased person's former employers to find out whether the estate or survivors are entitled to any death benefits. You can use the Employee Death Benefits Letter to request the information you need.

Notice to Creditor of Death

Use this form to notify each of the deceased person's creditors of the death and to close the deceased person's credit accounts.

General Notice of Death

An executor may want to notify businesses and organizations of the death. For example, you might want to notify charities to which the deceased person made regular donations. You can use this letter to inform anyone who might need to know of the death.

Forms for Home and Family

We provide a range of forms you can use to take care of your loved ones, pets and property. For example, there are authorizations you can use to give someone else permission to take care of your child and agreements you can complete to arrange for pet care. Here's some information about each of the forms for your home and family.

Child Care Agreement

If you want to hire someone to care for your children in your home, you should prepare a child care agreement.

WillMaker's Child Care Agreement allows you to spell out the exact responsibilities of the position and to specify the child care provider's hours, amount and schedule of payment, benefits and other important aspects of the job.

Child Care Instructions

Use this form to provide important information for babysitters and child care providers, such as names and phone numbers of doctors and emergency contacts and instructions about meals, naps and other details of your child's care.

Authorization for Minor's Medical Treatment

Creating a medical care authorization allows another adult to authorize necessary medical or dental treatment if your child is injured or becomes ill while not with you—for example, while playing on a sports team or staying with a babysitter.

Authorization for International Travel With Minor

If your young child will be traveling outside the United States with another adult, you should prepare an authorization for international travel. The form provides necessary proof that you have consented to the travel.

Temporary Guardianship Authorization

If you leave your child in the care of another adult for a few days, weeks or months, you should authorize the caretaker to make any necessary decisions about your child's medical, educational and other care. You can do this by preparing a temporary guardianship authorization.

Elder Care Agreement

WillMaker's elder care agreement is for people who wish to sign an agreement with an elder care provider who will take care of an older parent or other elderly relative at home. The agreement allows you to spell out the exact responsibilities of the position and to specify the worker's hours, amount and schedule of payment, benefits and other important aspects of the job.

Pet Care Agreement

If you're going on a trip or will otherwise be unable to care for your pet for a period of time, you might leave your animal in the care of a friend, relative, neighbor or professional pet sitter. If you do, it's a good idea to prepare this written agreement that sets out clear instructions for your pet's care and clarifies each party's responsibilities and expectations.

Housekeeping Services Agreement

If you hire someone to clean or take care of your house on a regular basis, you can use our housekeeping services agreement. It allows you to spell out the exact responsibilities of the position and to specify the housekeeper's hours, benefits and other details.

Housesitting Instructions

Use this form to provide detailed housesitting instructions for a person who will care for your home while you are away. You can specify your wishes about your plants and garden, newspapers and mail, telephone calls, appliances, computers, lights and security, tools and supplies, vehicles and other matters. You can also include important information, such as how you can be reached while you are away and whom the housesitter can contact for help in your absence.

Authorization to Drive a Motor Vehicle

Lending your vehicle to someone isn't always as simple as handing over the keys. If the person who borrows your car is pulled over by the police or is involved in an accident, the borrower will want to quickly prove that you agreed to the use. Otherwise, the driver may be detained while police investigate whether the car is stolen.

This simple authorization takes just a few minutes to complete, and it provides important legal proof that you've given someone else permission to drive your vehicle. The form is designed for a car, but it will work fine for a motorcycle, truck or other motor vehicle, such as a motorboat.

Notice to Put Name on Do Not Call List

The best way to stop telemarketers from calling you is to enter your telephone number in the National Do Not Call Registry, available at www.donotcall.gov. Telemarketers are prohibited from calling numbers listed in the registry, including cell phone numbers. Those who violate the law are subject to stiff fines— up to $43,792 for each offending phone call. A number of states have do not call lists as well. You may want to add your number to your state's registry, if it offers one.

Some companies are exempt from the federal registry's rules. These include long-distance telephone companies, airlines, banks and credit unions. Organizations soliciting money for political organizations or charities are also exempt. But even these businesses and organizations are required to keep their own lists of consumers who say that they do not want to be called again. If you ask a company not to call you, but you get another call within 12 months, you can sue for $500-$1,500 for each violation.

To stop unwanted calls, first put your number in the National Do Not Call Registry, described above. Keep a log to keep track of the date and time of each unwanted call, as well as the name of the company and product or service it was selling. Every time you receive an unwanted call, end the conversation by saying "Put me on your ‘do not call' list." Then follow up with that company by sending it our form "Notice to Put Name on Do Not Call List," which states the date of the phone call and the fact that you asked to be put on the do not call list. If the company calls again, you can use your log and this form to show that the company violated the law.

Cancel Membership or Subscription

Use this form to cancel a magazine subscription or your membership in an organization. The form allows you to state the reason for the cancellation—perhaps you have moved or are no longer interested in the subject—although you do not have to provide a reason. You can also use this form to request a refund of your membership or subscription fee if you believe it is warranted.

Personal Finance Forms

Finally, we offer some forms to help you with basic financial matters. There are forms to use if you need to borrow or lend money, a few other useful documents—such as a power of attorney you can use to have someone take care of a specific financial transaction if you're unavailable. Here's a little more information about each form.

General Bill of Sale

Use this form to record the terms of the sale of an item of personal property, such as a car, computer or guitar. When you sell an item with a written bill of sale, you reduce the chance of a dispute arising after the sale.

Limited Power of Attorney for Finances

A limited power of attorney for finances lets you appoint someone (called your "attorney-in-fact") to help you with one or more clearly defined tasks involving your finances or property. For example, you may want to name someone to monitor certain investments for you while you are on vacation—and sell them if necessary. Or you may need someone to sign business or legal papers for you while you are unavailable. This form lets you temporarily delegate authority to someone you trust.

Revocation of Power of Attorney

If you've made a power of attorney, you can change your mind and cancel it at any time. Use this notice of revocation to put an end to any power of attorney, including a durable power of attorney (one that is designed to remain in effect even after you become incapacitated).

Promissory Notes

If you are borrowing or lending money, you should create a promissory note. Like an IOU, a promissory note records the terms of the loan, including the period of repayment and the interest rate (if interest will be charged), as well as the borrower's promise to pay back the loan.

The promissory note you make with WillMaker offers a choice of three payment plans.

Installment payments. This type of promissory note requires the borrower to make the same monthly payment for a specified number of months. You can choose whether or not the borrower will pay interest on the loan.

One lump-sum payment. As the name indicates, this note requires the borrower to make just one payment on a specified date. You can choose whether the borrower will pay interest on the loan.

Payments of interest only. With this type of note, the borrower pays only the interest on the loan each month for a specified number of months, with a balloon payment of the principal and any remaining interest at the end of the loan term.

Security Agreement for Borrowing Money

Use this form if you are borrowing or lending money and the borrower agrees to provide the lender with a security interest as collateral for the loan. This security agreement allows the borrower to offer tangible personal property as collateral—that is, physical items of property other than real estate, such as a car, jewelry or furniture.