Possession of your house, ownership of your investments, inheritances for your children and grandchildren. To pass on your legacy how you wish, you need a will. And you’ll need to review and update it after major life changes like marriage, divorce, purchase of a new home, or births and deaths in the family.

An attorney can help you structure your will to comply with state laws and minimize taxes and fees for your beneficiaries. In the meantime, here’s some information to help you get started.

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What is a will? 

A will lets you legally define who gets what from your estate—how, and when. You’re also able to name a guardian for any minor children and an executor to handle all the details.

Without a will, the state makes these important decisions for you. Typically, a local probate court steps in to identify your heirs, appraise and distribute your assets, and pay your debts.

Probate has some benefits, like court supervision over the distribution of your assets and settlement of any claims. But there are many trade-offs, like privacy (since court records are generally public information), court and attorney fees, and time incurred by the probate process.

What to include

Assets that are usually subject to probate should be included in your will. These include cash, real estate, and personal valuables like art and jewelry.

Trusts, retirement accounts, investments, and proceeds from insurance policies are generally not subject to probate—if you’ve named a beneficiary, that is. So be sure to keep these records up to date with major life changes as you’re reviewing your will.

All investments are subject to market risk, including the possible loss of principal.

This material is provided for general and educational purposes only, and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice. This material does not provide fiduciary recommendations concerning investments or investment management; it is not individualized to the needs of any specific benefit plan or retirement investor, nor is it directed to any recipient in connection with a specific investment or investment management decision.