Most of us don’t enjoy thinking about our mortality, much less about what will happen to our loved ones and our belongings after we pass. Creating a will requires us to not only think about these things but to actively prepare for them in ways that will have significant effects on those we love. A will is a fundamental way to care for your loved ones. It will determine how your entire lifetime’s worth of possessions are distributed in the event of your passing.
Creating a will can also help to alleviate a lot of the stress over legal issues that can come up when someone passes away. You want your possessions to end up in the right hands, and with the least number of headaches and delays possible. It is wise to consult with an estate attorney or planner before creating your own will to ensure it is effective and adheres to the laws of your state.
1. What is a Will, by Definition?
A will is a lawfully binding document in which you declare who will manage your assets after your passing. Even if you don’t have expensive items such as houses and property, a will can distribute things of more sentimental value such as photographs or cherished heirlooms. It can also provide direction for the disbursement of things like art, furniture, or even china or tableware.
Anyone who is designated to receive something in your will is known as a “beneficiary.” Perhaps counterintuitively, a last will does not address financial accounts and insurance policies. These things generally have beneficiaries which were listed when the accounts or the policies opened. You may want to verify that all accounts or policies are up to date, as the financial company will otherwise honor any beneficiary that was listed when the account opened.
2. Do I Need an Estate Lawyer to Prepare My Will?
You are not legally required to have an attorney involved in the making of your will. However, having one may help to prevent any potential mistakes or oversights. If your estate is more complex and involves strategies such as living trusts, you will likely want to retain a lawyer to ensure these things are handled properly.
If you do not need or wish to hire a lawyer, there are a wide variety of will planning kits available online. You can also find books about planning wills in your local library or bookstore. Another critical consideration is who will have power of attorney over things such as finances and healthcare.
3. What Happens if I Do Not Create a Will?
If you happen to pass away without a will, the state will decide who receives your property. Whether you have a will or not, a judge will assign someone to manage your estate. If you do have a will, but it is deemed invalid for any reason, an administrator will also be named. The administrator will be required to execute the estate based on state laws, regardless of your wishes. If you want to have any say in the execution of your estate, you must leave a legal last will.
4. Who Should Witness My Will?
You are officially required to have a witness in the creation of your will. You must choose someone who is not one of the beneficiaries so that there will not be any conflict of interest.
Some states require a will to be notarized. You may also want to have your witness sign a “self-proving affidavit.” This document does not require them to come into court to verify their signature on the will. Using this affidavit can speed up the process and prevent delays or issues with witness availability.
5. Should I Have a Joint Will With My Spouse?
Generally speaking, it is advised by most estate planners to have separate wills. This is primarily because of the low probability that you will both pass away at the same time. You may or may not still be married, and there may be many possessions not jointly owned. Because of these factors, many states will not even recognize a joint will, and most estate planners advise against them.
We hope this answers your main questions about leaving a will for your loved ones and having your estate executed. If you have any suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below!