Financial planner Alexandra Armstrong of Julia M. Walsh & Sons Inc. offers these 10 tips on how to make a will that does what you want:
1. Find a competent, reliable lawyer. "There's no substitute for skill and experience in an estate planner." Get recommendations from friends, relatives or business associates.
2. List your assets. "Make it up in advance. It will save your lawyer time--and you money." Include: life insurance; pension plans and employe benefits; real estate, including your residence; bank accounts; stocks and bonds and other investments; debts owed to you; cars; business holdings . . . basically everything you own. "Note which assets are owned jointly, and which are subject to mortgages or are collateral for loans."
3. Decide how you want to distribute your estate. "Your lawyer should figure out the best methods for meeting your estate-planning goals. But only you can tell him what your goals are--how much you want to leave and to whom."
4. Mention, by name, anyone you want excluded from your will. "A specific reference to a disinherited heir will help minimize the risk of a will contest by showing you simply didn't forget."
5. Name a guardian for your minor children. "This is essential for providing for your children in case both you and your spouse die . . . Choose an alternative guardian, too, in case your first choice can't serve."
6. Name a trusted person as executor or trustee. "The executor must marshal your assets, administer your estate, and distribute your bequests. A trustee must manage any assets you leave in trust. It's often wise to include a bank as co-trustee."
7. Do not require a bond. "Save your estate several hundred dollars by specifying that the executor may serve without bond."
8. Provide a letter of final instructions. "It's an extra that gives your executor more detailed guidance in handling your affairs, planning your funeral, and managing your estate."
9. Express your wishes in general terms. "Try to avoid specific bequests of property or stated dollar figures. Stick to formula or fractional gifts to leave flexibility in case of fluctuations in your fortune."
10. Regularly review your will. "Your will should be updated to reflect increases in your worth or family status and major changes in tax laws." Also, if you move to another state, inheritance laws may differ, requiring revision of your will.
Among the many books that could help unravel the technical aspects of wills, trusts, probate, taxes and estate planning in general:
* Everything Your Heirs Need To Know About You, by attorney David S. Magee (1981, Jama Books, 142 pp., $9.95). Designed as a guide and organizer to provide the information your heirs would want and need in the event of your death.
* The Essential Guide to Wills, Estates, Trusts and Death Taxes, by Towson attorney Alex J. Soled (Chancery Publishers, 240 pp., $12.95). An encyclopedic volume, in question-and-answer format, written for non-professionals.