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Who and What Should You Include in Your Will?

Margaret Minnicks, an ordained minister and Bible teacher, is used to giving advice about life.

Do you have a will?

Do you have a will?

What Is a Will or Testament?

A will or testament is a legal document that describes a person's wishes for his possessions after death. Provisions in the will are made for both personal property and real estate. The deceased person is known as the testator and the person left in charge of the will is called the executor.

The absence of a will can cause a big headache for a family. It would be so much easier if a person would take the time to decide what would happen to his estate after his death.

It's wise to leave behind a will so family members will know what to do with your property after your death. Your surviving loved ones need to know exactly what your wishes are without having to guess.

Reasons People Might Not Leave a Will

Many times people do not leave a will because they believe they don't have much to leave behind. Sometimes people think they are not old enough to leave a will. Others associate drawing up a will with death, so they do not want to think about that.

People don’t have to be rich to have a will in place. The document ensures that your wishes are carried out as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018.

Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018.

Celebrities Who Didn't Leave a Will

Aretha Franklin died at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer on August 16, 2018. She left behind an $80 million estate. No will or estate plan was found at first. People wondered why the Queen of Soul didn't leave a will with a definite estate plan considering her long illness and her age.

Aretha had not designated anyone to take care of her legal business in the event of her death. If so, her intentions could have been carried out quickly and with much less confusion for her four sons, one of whom has special needs. Something was found later scribbled on a piece of paper.



Prince died at the age of 57 on April 21, 2016. He did not leave a will and is also a good example of why it is very important to have a will and an estate plan in place. He also died without leaving either one of those legal documents. That made the process of settling his estate much more complicated. His six surviving siblings had to wait until the IRS could settle his $200 million estate which continues to grow even after his death.

Aretha and Prince are not the only celebrities who died without a will or estate plan. Other celebrities who did not leave a will include Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Bono, and Kurt Cobain.

It would have been so much better and quicker if a will had been in place to ensure their wishes were carried out instead of leaving it up to their state to decide.

A LexisNexis survey shows that most Americans do not have a will. Over half of the respondents did not have a will and estate plan. Not one in four respondents had a living will. Only one in five people had set up a trust.

What Should Be Included in a Will?

There are certain things that should be included in a will.

  1. The name of an executor should be specified to make sure the stipulations of the will are carried out. It is not a bad idea to include the name of an alternate in case something happens to the primary executor.
  2. List who you want gifted with your possessions. You should list alternate beneficiaries in case you outlive your beneficiaries. For instance, include a beneficiary's spouse or children.
  3. Be specific on who you want to get your assets. Don't assume your assets will be divided equally among all your children, charities, or other beneficiaries. Your will should state precisely what should go to each person or organization.
  4. The will should spell out how to settle debts and final expenses.
  5. The will should also spell out how others should settle their debts with you rather than thinking they all should be canceled after your death.
  6. Make sure you indicate special instructions for maintaining your real estate.
  7. Instead of leaving money to pets, list a provider for them. Include a certain amount of money for them to cover expenses for your pets.

What Should Not Be Included in Your Will

It can be very confusing about what to include and what not to include in a will. Even though there are kits you can purchase online, it is best to get legal advice for such an important act. When you try to write your own will, you might put in something that should not be there and leave out things that should be there.

Here are some things that should not be included in a will even though the majority of people think they should be included.

  1. Your funeral arrangements should not be part of your will. The main reason for not including your funeral and burial requests in your will is because those two things take place long before the will is processed. The funeral arrangements are among the first matters of business after someone dies. Instead of leaving your funeral wishes in your will, talk with your loved ones about what you want and spell it out in a document separate from your will.
  2. If you share some property or business with someone else, the surviving tenant gets the property or business no matter what your will says.
  3. Insurance proceeds from a life insurance policy automatically go to the beneficiaries stated on the policy. Retirement money, as well as stocks and bonds, also automatically go to the beneficiaries stated on those documents.
  4. Be careful with what conditions you put on gifts. For instance, monetary gifts might be stipulated for beneficiaries when they come of age or finish college. Those conditions must be spelled out. Illegal conditions will not be honored.
  5. Arrangements for a special needs person should not be included in a will. A special needs trust is a much better option.
  6. Even though many people leave money to their pets in their will, it is advisable not to do so because animals do not have the legal capacity to own anything. Check with the laws of your state to determine how you want your pets taken care of after your death.


What Not to Include When Making a Will

Ten Things to Include in Your Will

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on June 16, 2019:

Tim, thanks for reading my article and commenting.

I was shocked that so many celebrities including Aretha Franklin and Prince didn't have a will when they died.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 16, 2019:

Great article filled with useful information, Margaret. Thanks. I was stunned to learn about Prince and Aretha not making out a will, but that just emphasizes the importance of the document. Respectfully, Tim