It Begins with a Will

by Fidelity Investments


Your will is the most important legal document in your estate. It establishes your wishes and provides direction on how they should be executed after your death. Yet, many Americans die intestate, that is, without a will. More than any other tool, a will spares your survivors unnecessary work and expense. That's why it's important to work with an experienced attorney to prepare this basic written document. Your will should:

  1. State how you wish your property to be distributed at your death, if the property does not pass outside your will.
  2. Name an executor (also called an executrix or personal representative) for your estate.
  3. Provide for the payment of costs incurred in settling your estate.
  4. If you have minor children, your will should also:
    1. Designate a guardian for your minor children
    2. Name a trustee to protect your children's inheritances

Keep in mind that even though you have a will, you'll also want to be aware of your state's inheritance laws. If you have complicated family relationships, speak with your attorney about additional legal documents, such as pre- and post-nuptial agreements that may be used to strengthen any position you establish with your will.


Revisiting Your Will

Once you have a will, it's important to revisit it regularly, such as every three to five years. However, certain life events should trigger an automatic review:



Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild

Significant changes in financial circumstances

Death of an executor or guardian

Change of residence to a new state or country


You should store your will, and other important documents related to your estate (including your durable power of attorney, health care proxy, and trust documents in a safe place where they will be easily available. If you store them in a bank safe deposit box, they may not be easily accessible to your beneficiaries after your death. Also, make sure to tell your named executor or trusted family members where these documents can be located.