When it comes to your properties and assets, you must find a way to express your final wishes regarding your estate. After your death, it is typical for your family and friends to get entitled to your possessions. Therefore, everyone will want to get a share of the assets you might have left behind after your demise.
In most cases, this entitlement may lead to unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts between your loved ones, such as disagreements over who should take charge of the company or how to divide the assets. As a result, it is crucial to write a last will so that your family and friends can understand how you have distributed your assets among them.
A last will and testament, also known as a Will, is a document that legally highlights all your assets. Additionally, the last will shows your properties and other assets to the preferred inheritors. The assets may include cars, real estate, companies, personal belongings like clothes, your money, and so much more.
Last Will and Testament Templates
A last will and testament is an essential legal document that should be prepared with great caution. That means you must include the correct details to avoid confusion or risk your will being invalid. In addition, the will is designed to ensure that all your assets are well distributed between your family, friends, and charity organizations to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
To ensure that you have a legally valid will, you can use the last will and testament templates to create an accurate and perfect will. These templates will allow you to include all the necessary details to make the will relevant. You can access and download the templates for free from this website. In addition, these last will and testament templates can be customized to suit your State’s legal requirements.
This article will discuss a last will and testament, how it is created, and its importance.
Last Will and Testament
The last will and testament is a document that legally highlights your last wish. In addition, the last will and testament explain how and when the assets should be distributed to the individuals or entities mentioned in the will. The essence of the will is to ensure that there is less confusion about who inherits what. That means all matters involving dependents, financial interests, and accounts management can be handled using a will.
To ensure that the will statement is legal, there should be at least two state witnesses and an attorney. The attorney will oversee the whole process and ensure that only the mentioned individuals inherit the assets according to the deceased wishes. Moreover, the attorney, the witnesses, and the beneficiaries will provide their signatures and remain with a copy of the signed will. This will ascertain that they are the new owners of the assigned properties and assets.
In some States, non-standard or unusual wills such as holographic wills are allowed. These are the wills that an attorney does not produce, do not require notarization, and lack witnesses.
Importance of a Last Will and Testament
Having a last will is crucial because it allows you to control your assets and properties even after your death fully. Only the individual listed in your last will can inherit your assets. Note that it is dictated by law that the listed individuals only get what you left them and nothing more.
Additionally, the last will is vital as it allows parents with minor children to secure the assets for their children. They can achieve this by hiring a legal guardian to ensure each child gets a share of the assets left behind by the deceased parent(s). However, if you pass away without a prepared will, the State will appoint an authorized administrator to help distribute your wealth. Your assets and properties will be given to your immediate spouse and children in this case.
The state is allowed to take charge of all your properties and assets if you don’t have any surviving family members to inherit your property. You will have to write or update your last will several times. In this case, you will need to include your biological or adopted children, your single, married, or divorced marital status, a list of all assets you own, and if you have any health complications.
Fact check: If you are mentally or physically unable to craft your own will, you can assign an attorney or a medical directive to help you with the process. The medical detective or attorney will direct the court on how to handle the will and how to distribute your assets and properties.
How does it Work?
A will is only effective once the writer of the will is dead. Therefore, you have to write a will while you are still alive. While writing the will, you will identify an executor responsible for reading and overseeing the distribution of the assets once you are dead.
The will should clearly state all the beneficiaries and what they will inherit once the last will is finalized. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the executor and the probate court to ensure that the listed inheritors get precisely what they deserve. This means that the court is responsible for knowing who the beneficiaries are, what they will receive, and what amount.
However, any assets not listed in the last will, will not be designated to any inheritor. In this case, the probate court will tally up the assets not listed in the will and distribute them according to the state laws.
Last Will vs. Living Will vs. Trust
A last will is a document highlighting all your assets and properties and what to do with them upon your demise. Only the assets under your name should be shared with the beneficiaries after your death. In the last will, you can name a guardian who will care for your children after you leave. For the inheritors to get access to your assets and properties, an executor and a probate court will have to oversee the whole process to ensure that your last wishes are met.
A living will is a document highlighting and specifying your health care preferences. Like a last will, a living will allows you to name a guardian for your children if you have any. If you are incapacitated and cannot consent to certain health care routines, the health care workers can use the living will as a guide. This will allow them to understand the medical treatments you prefer and those you do not.
On the other hand, trust comes into effect once it is created. Therefore, it is broadly used if you are ill and unable to take care of yourself and control your assets. In this case, you will find a trustee who controls and takes care of all your assets and properties on your behalf. However, the trustee is only in charge of the assets and properties under your name and those listed in the trust. Notably, a probate court does not have to examine living trust, saving you time and money.
Validity and Invalidity of the Last Will
The last will is essential, especially if you have vast wealth. However, the validity and invalidity of the last will depend on several reasons, which include the following:
Requirements for the will to be valid
The primary purpose of the last will is to ensure that all your last wishes are accomplished. Therefore, the last will requires you to identify and name all your properties and assets. You are also required to identify all the inheritors of your properties. Additionally, with the last will, you can give some of your possession to charity organizations of your choice.
When writing a will, it is crucial to identify an executor who will oversee the whole process. The executor is responsible for opening, reading, and distributing your assets per your wishes. Furthermore, you can assign a trusted legal guardian to care for your children.
Note that a will is valid if a physically and mentally sound individual signs it. Moreover, it is a legal requirement that at least two witnesses be available during the signing of the last will. The witnesses should be 18 years and above. Notably, it is not a legal requirement to employ a lawyer when writing a last will.
Invalidity of a will
A will can be considered invalid depending on the following reasons:
- Previous will: You can have more than one will for multiple properties. However, this will only create confusion as to which one should be followed after your demise. This is why it is crucial to destroy your previous last will copies. Additionally, the most recent and newly updated last will should be the one to be used after your death.
- Mental incompetence: It is a legal requirement that an individual is in a stable physical and mental state when writing the last will. To be considered mentally competent, you must know all the assets and properties under your name, state your relationship with the inheritors, know all your relatives, and understand what your last will says and means. A mentally incompetent individual cannot be allowed to write a last will because their judgment and decision-making will be impacted. Therefore, such a will is considered invalid by the relevant authorities.
- Improper witnesses: It is a legal requirement for at least two witnesses aged 18 years and above to be present during the writing and signing of the will. The witnesses are required to observe the signing of the last will. Additionally, the witnesses will ascertain that you are in a competent mental state when writing the will.
Therefore, the last will and testament will be considered invalid if the witnesses do not meet the expected legal requirements.
How to Write a Last Will and Testament
A will should be written when you have enough time to consider how you will distribute your assets and properties. Here are details that you should include in your last will:
When writing the last will, you are considered the testator or the testatrix. Therefore, you should include your full name, address, and contact details.
The executor is the trusted individual responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will. The state legally authorizes this individual to execute all your last wishes. Therefore, the executor’s full name, address, and contact details should be included in the will.
You should provide a list of individuals or organizations that will inherit and benefit from your assets and properties in your last will. The beneficiaries may include your children, spouse, extended family, close friends, and charity organizations.
Indicate how much debt is left behind after your demise. This debt may include bank loans and funeral expenses. These debts will have to be paid once the will has been opened and the assets have been distributed.
Assets and properties
The will should have a list of all assets and properties legally under your name. These assets and properties will be distributed to the beneficiaries mentioned in the will.
Protection for children and pets
Assign a legal guardian to protect your children and pets. The will should contain precise instructions on how the guardian should care for your children or pets. Additionally, the will should indicate funds allocated for the guardian and the children.
Each state has laws that should be adhered to when writing a will. For example, it is a law requirement for the testator to have at least two witnesses aged 18 years and above. Additionally, you cannot willingly give all your assets and properties, especially those in joint accounts. Finally, note that state laws govern the last will, and it is considered illegal to oppose them.
Sign the document
For the last will to be valid and legal, you, as the testator, should sign the document in the presence of the witnesses. However, before signing the document, the witnesses must ascertain that you are in a good mental state and that the document abides by the state laws.
State law requires at least two witnesses to be available when signing the will. The witnesses must sign the will as required by state law.
Consequences of Not Having Last Will and Testament
If an individual dies without leaving a last will and testament, the State usually takes charge of how their property will be distributed. Such a person is considered to have died intestate; hence, automatically making the State the executor of their estate. This means that the State, through the court, will decide who will receive the inheritance first, determine the most suitable guardian in cases with children and even nullify any will that seems invalid.
Remember that all this will be done without considering the family’s situation. Also, any family member or blood relative can claim the estate since no will exists. If you wish for particular people (dependents) to receive wealth and property after your death, you should consider preparing a last will and testament.
In some States, such as Arizona, New Mexico, California, Texas, Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, the probate laws determine the consequences of not having a last will and testament. For example, according to community property laws, the deceased’s property will be divided among your surviving spouse and children. This is because; the community property laws regard spouses as joint property owners.
With this being the case, the deceased’s surviving spouse will receive half of the estate while the rest will be distributed to the children. The spouse will receive the entire property if there are no living children or grandchildren. The estate would be shared among surviving children and relatives if the deceased was widowed or unmarried. If the deceased has no next of kin available, then the estate will become the property of the State.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a codicil to a Last Will and Testament?
A codicil to the last will and testament is an addendum that is prepared to allow the original creator of the will to change, add, remove or amend anything in their will. The original creator of the will can use a codicil to ensure the will and testament is currently based on their circumstances.
How much does a Last Will and Testament cost?
The cost of a last will and testament depends on the nature of your estate and the process you choose to distribute your assets to your dependents. An essential last will and testament can be drafted for free, while online ones can be acquired at costs of between tens to hundreds of dollars if you hire a lawyer for this process.
Can I give away all of my property in a Will?
No, you can only give most of your property in a will but not all of it. For example, some of the properties you cannot give in your will include life insurance, 401(k) plan assets, pension plan assets, retirement plan assets, annuities, property held in a trust, and matrimonial home held jointly. This is because transferring such property requires you as the holder to specify the beneficiary.
Does a Will allow me to specify care for my pets?
Your will allows you to specify care for your pets by appointing them a caretaker. Ensure that you specify the pets you have, the name of their caretaker, and the amount of money allocated for the care in your last will and testament.
Can I make a gift to a charity in my Will?
You can make a gift to a charity in your will by creating a legacy gift. The legacy gift means that the named charity organization will become the beneficiary of your entire estate, part of your estate, or will receive certain assets such as property or money. It is essential to contact the charity organization as you will need its Employer Identification Number (EIN) when setting up the legacy gift.
Do I need to notarize my Last Will and Testament?
You do not need to notarize your last will and testament; however, this all depends on the State you live in. Some States may require you to notarize your will to accelerate the probate process. Also, notarization increases the validity of your last will and testament by eliminating any need for witnesses during the probate process.
Should I work with an attorney for my Will?
Since it is a simple process, you do not need to work with an attorney when preparing your will. However, if you have legal questions, it is best to find a lawyer whom you will work with for the entire process.
Which types of personal property can I include?
Any item you possess that has value, such as vehicles, jewelry, collectibles, and furniture, is considered personal property and can be included in the will. However, your personal property does not include cash. Therefore, you can give all your personal property to one or multiple beneficiaries.
What happens if a beneficiary dies?
If a beneficiary dies while the owner of the will is still alive, they can remove the beneficiary from the will. The second beneficiary will receive the property listed for the deceased beneficiary. Regarding beneficiaries, the Uniform Probate Code states that a beneficiary must survive for at least 5 days if they wish to inherit the deceased’s property upon death. Also, if there is no beneficiary, the deceased’s estate will be subjected to the governing state’s “Anti-Lapse” Laws.