A Last Will and Testament states what will happen to your assets after death. This includes, but is not limited to, your estate, property, possessions, money and children. The consequences of not having a will are quite serious; the government will divide your property, regardless of your intended wishes.
Why should I have a Last Will?
You worked hard to earn what you have—your home, car, bank account—shouldn’t you express how it will be distributed after your death? Without a will, your wishes will be irrelevant, and the state will decide how to distribute your estate. Precious heirlooms, that you wanted to give to a friend upon your death, will be sold at auctions and the money will go to the government. Drafting a Last Will ensures your estate is handled according to your preference.
What should I know when creating a Last Will?
- List your beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries are the people you want to leave your property to. You can also choose how you want your property divided amongst your beneficiaries.
- Appoint an Executor of your Last Will
An Executor is the person who you chose to administer your estate. They are responsible for collecting the assets of the estate, paying any debts of the estate, paying state and federal taxes and then distributing the assets of the estate in accordance with the direction of the Will. When selecting your Executor ensure you select someone you trust and will be able to handle your financial matter prudently.
- Appoint an Alternative Executor
The Alternative Executor will assume all responsibility for administering your estate if the Executor that you had selected is unwilling or unable to act or continue to act.
- All your children must be listed
In your will you must list every child, even if you wish to state that the child will receive no part of your estate. In most jurisdictions, if you don't name all of your heirs, they or their legal guardian(s) will have the right to contest your will.
James Brown, "The Godfather of Soul", had his will contested in early 2007 because it failed to name the late singer’s youngest son, James Jr, and his widow Tami Rae Hynie (though, there was considerable controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Hynie’s marriage to Brown).
Brown’s will didn't appear to be updated since the birth of his last son, so it is unclear whether the omission was intentional or not. However, the singer’s intention is irrelevant. Having failed to name one of his heirs meant Brown’s will was open to contest, highlighting a real situation that can happen to anyone’s estate if they don’t list all their children.
All states (besides Vermont, which requires three) require two witnesses to sign a last will. Keep in mind that some states such as California, witnesses are not allowed gifts from the will as it creates a presumption that the gift was given under duress.
Writing Your Will
Hiring a lawyer to draft your will can be expensive. LawDepot’s Last Will and Testament form uses simple step-by-step questions to help you create your own document. All you have to do is think about your assets and how you would like them distributed among your family and friends. Carefully list as much as you can in detail to avoid any discrepancies, ambiguities or errors in the document.
By drafting a will, you ensure that your family is taken care of and that your estate is handled according to your wishes — not the will of the government.
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