Reflect on the consequences of your unexpected death - imagine you're suddenly gone.
This morbid task is the central theme of estate planning. If you're suddenly killed (as in a car accident), you will have no time to address any last-minute arrangement, to "get your affairs in order". You must take the time now, while you still can, to visualize the consequences of your death.
Develop answers to the obvious questions.
What burial and memorial arrangements would I want? Who would administer my estate? (The person you name in a will is called the Executor; in Oregon and other states, this person is also called the Personal Representative.) What bills would need to be paid, and what funds would be available to pay them? Who would have custody of my children? (The person you nominate is called the Guardian, and your choice will be subject to court approval.) Who would I want to give the "little things" to? (Household furnishings, clothing, sporting goods, etc.) You should write out a list of recipients, or expressly state that you leave it up to your Personal Representative to decide.
Select your primary beneficiaries - decide who gets valuable assets
Who would I want to give the "big things" to? (House, bank accounts, investments, etc.) Most people choose to leave all assets to their spouse, and if none, then to their children. Your Will may leave your entire estate to one person, or several people. Assets to be divided among several people could be divided equally, or based on percentages or fractions. You can even leave specific dollar amounts of money to specific beneficiaries and you may also specify particular assets to go to a specific beneficiary.
Select your alternate beneficiaries
You should also consider what beneficiaries you would name, in the event you are not survived by your spouse or children. You may want to leave your assets to your siblings, nieces, nephews, or close friends. Married couples usually leave one-half of their combined wealth to the relatives of the wife, and the other half to the relatives of the husband. You may also consider naming charities to receive some or all of your estate.
Consider passing some assets into trusts for children and grandchildren
Most people are reluctant to leave assets outright to their children, for fear that their children may unwisely spend their inheritance. Even older children can make mistakes, or be the victims of aggressive creditors. It is easy to protect against this by specifying that any inheritance to a child under a certain age (i.e., 30 or 35) must be held in a trust for the benefit of the child. The trustee can be given broad discretion to dole money out for the benefit of the child, for living expenses, educational costs, medical needs, etc. You should carefully think about who you would name as trustee for your children, and who should be the first and second alternates as well. The child’s trust could even be designed to reward certain achievements (i.e., distribute 10% of the trust upon college graduation). The child’s trust can be custom designed to reflect your goals and values.
Make notes of your answers.
The answers need not be complete, or final. Just jot down your initial thoughts. Know that you can easily change you will in the future, as circumstances change. The important thing is to start somewhere.