A last will and testament is a document that declares what property you – the “testator” – wish to pass on to your family, friends, or a trust. You name an executor of your estate who will ensure that your property and finances are divided appropriately, according to your wishes, either written in the will or implied if you do not write them down.
In most cases, you are able to complete these documents yourself. However, if you have a complicated estate, you may wish to hire an attorney to help you complete your last will and testament. In your last will and testament, be sure to fully identify yourself with your name, Social Security Number, and address. This will prevent anyone with a similar or the same name from being confused with you. You could also include your birth date or driver’s license information to further identify yourself.
The primary document in your last will and testament is your declaration, in which you state that you are of sound mind and you wish for this document to be respected. If you are concerned that the will could be called into question, videotape yourself with a date stamp to prove that you are of sound mind.
Be sure to declare, as well, that no one has influenced your decisions in the will; include details of your family, including spouse, children, and close relatives. Then, state and appoint the executor of your will. Often, this person is a close relative, but that is not legally required, and recently, more people choose professionals such as attorneys to be their executors. This person will ensure that your last will and testament is followed and your estate is distributed according to your wishes.
How it Works
A last will and testament bequeaths assets to your heirs after your death. This sounds simple – you give your house to your daughter, your car to your cousin, your stocks and bonds to your son, etc. You should state percentages in your will to help divide your finances, adding up to 100% total.
However, you may not be able to bequeath everything you “own” to your heirs, so research your state’s laws regarding assets and estate planning. In some states, marriage entitles your spouse to you’re your assets regardless of your last will and testament. Consider speaking with an attorney if you believe you have a complicated estate.
If you have minor children, you can also use your last will and testament to designate a legal guardian for them – if this person is not their other biological parent, a relative, or your current spouse, you may wish to speak with an attorney to ensure no one disputes this provision.
In some rare instances, you may wish to make inheritance provisional on your desires – for example, you may wish your child to marry someone specific, and you will not pass on a piece of property to them unless they marry this person.
You can also use your last will and testament to ensure your funeral wishes are completed. For example, if you wish to be cremated and interred in a specific location, you should make these arrangements and state in your will that this is your desired final resting place.
When is it Invalid?
If you have concerns about your last will and testament being disputed after your death, sign the document in front of at least one witness and a notary or an attorney. Many states require these people be present for the signing anyway, but regardless of state law, their signatures will lend credibility to your final wishes.
Different states have different last will and testament requirements to make the documents fully legal. Research your state’s laws to ensure you follow them completely – otherwise, if there is a dispute about your estate, the document could be taken to court and potentially revoked if it does not follow state law.
In cases of “unnatural deposition,” your will could be called into question. Unnatural deposition involves giving your assets to someone who is not a family member if you still have close relatives, or passing your estate on to someone you do not know well or have not known for long. If you wish to create a last will and testament involving unnatural deposition, you should hire an attorney to ensure the transfer is completely legal and valid.
If you have made multiple copies of your last will and testament over the years, it is important to destroy the original ones and/or make a statement in any new versions that the previous versions are null and void. If you do not take this step, your heirs may dispute the provisions in your will.
Include provisions in your will that determine who is next in line if one of your beneficiaries dies. Otherwise, your heirs may dispute the distribution because some of your property has not been distributed.