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Everything You Need to Know About the Last Will and Testament
What is a will?
A last will and testament refers to the legal instrument that grants you authority and control over the distribution of your estate after you pass away. By estate, we refer to your net worth at the time of your death – the sum of the assets owned less the value of your liabilities. Using this document, you will be able to communicate instructions which ensure that your loved one, especially your kids are well taken care of in your absence. It also lets you distribute your estate to whoever you’d like, individuals or institutions.
Do you need a will?
Yes. Even though will creation is not a statutory or federal legal requirement, it’s a document that will not only allow naming of heirs to your estate as per your wishes, but it will also let you protect your kids. There are many things you can do with the will; among them:
Leaving your estate or specific assets to friends or institutions
The naming of a guardian for your minor kids or dependent with special needs. You could also use the will to name a guardian for your pet.
Prevention of family conflicts or confusion on matters regarding your estate.
You could also use the will to give your estate to someone or an organization if you don’t have any living relatives. This is because, in the absence of living relatives, your estate goes to the state.
The will also facilitates the creation of trusts. There are different types of trusts, and the most common ones facilitate asset protection, asset accumulation, or keeping assets in the family. You could also create a trust for the care of special needs dependent or one that will offer credit and tax shelters if you have a large estate.
The other purpose of a will would be addressing asset distribution in a blended family as well as what happens after divorce or remarrying.
The will also names a personal representative who will file the will with the probate court for validation, manage and distribute the estate.
You could also use the will to set in motion a business succession plan.
To get started, you will need a free last will and testament form specific to the state you reside in, and the form must be filled duly then signed for its approval by the probate court upon your demise. To fill out the form, you must know the parties to the will. They include:
The testator: this is the person who creates the will and testament, the ones whose property is distributed after they pass away.
Executor/ personal representative: this refers to the person who carries out the wishes of the testator.
Heir/ beneficiary: this is the person who receives the assets of the testator. The beneficiary can be a person, an organization, or a place.
Requirements for the validity of the last will
These are the things to do when you create a last will and testament.
The testator must be of legal age and considered an adult as per the requirements of the state they reside in, and they should be of sound mind. A testator must act voluntarily.
To affirm the state and the signing of the will, most states require the presence of at least two adult witnesses, or you could notarize the will at the notary public.
If the testator is unable to sign the will, he or she could ask someone else to sign the will on their behalf but under the testator’s direction and in the testator’s presence.
The will must name the executor, and the beneficiaries and the testator and the witnesses must sign the will.
The will must be in writing. However, some states accept holographic (handwritten) or nuncupative (oral) wills, under special circumstances like the testator serving in active duty in the army or the marines.
Types of Wills
A simple will only names beneficiaries to the estate
Besides naming beneficiaries, the complex will names guardians, creates trusts, as well as plans for business succession and asset protection. This will handles the complex matters around family structures and asset distribution.
What happens if you die without a will?
If you die without a last will, the state invokes intestacy laws, and your estate is considered intestate. What this means is that the state has all the power to distribute your estate as it deems fit. Under these laws, your closest relatives will inherit the estate in different proportions – rules vary depending on the state. And without a living relative, your estate goes to the state.
Changing your will
You can change or update your will at any time if your family situation changes (getting kids, marrying or divorcing), if someone named in the will passes away, if you move to a different state, if you buy or sell assets, if you change your legal name, or if you change your opinions on asset distribution.
To implement the changes, you require a codicil – an amendment to be implemented in the same way as the original will.
Revoking your will
In most cases and laws applicable in most states, you can revoke your will by executing a subsequent last will or by destroying the will through burning, cancellation, tearing, or obliterating the document, your intention being to revoke the document.
In rare cases and in some states, a divorce will revoke the will.
Would you like to create a will today? How about you download a last will and testament form available online for different states to get started and to protect your loved ones and assets?