A will, more formally called a Last Will and Testament, allows the individual, called the testator, to declare one or more people to manage their estate (executors) and distribute their property to their heirs after death. Wills can also provide specific guardians for minor children, specific intentions for property or money distributed to heirs, how your body should be handled and funeral arrangements should be made, and for proceeding with repaying debts.
What is a Will?
Generally, wills are considered the proper legal instrument to distribute “real” property, while a testament distributes personal property. However, these two legal documents are often treated as interchangeable, and usually combined.
If you do not make a will, your property will be divided according to your state’s Descent and Distribution laws. A will allows you to be more specific in how your property is handled after your death, if you are concerned about specific items, or minor children.
You do not have to file your will with legal or government agencies in your city or state, but the document should be notarized and witnessed in order to be fully legal at the time of your death. If you make changes to your will, be sure to destroy old copies of your will, and put a date stamp on the latest version. You are not required to take these steps, but it can help prevent confusion about or contestation of your will.
If you have a complex estate, you should consider consulting an attorney for help writing your will, or discussing if perhaps a trust would serve you better. Most people, however, do not need the help of an attorney to divide their property and finances after their death, and simply downloading our free form, filling it out, and notarizing it before witnesses creates a legal document applicable to most estates.
How is a Will Used?
Wills most notably can be used to specify percentages of finances and property divided to heirs, as well as allowing the testator to name non-relatives as heirs for their property. Having the document signed by a notary and at least two witnesses allows the testator to prove that they were of sound mind when they made this kind of will, although sometimes relatives can take wills through probate court to dispute the contents.
Increasingly, people put clauses into their wills to manage their Digital Assets, including email addresses and social media accounts. Some social media sites like Facebook have created specific clauses in their Terms and Conditions that now allow heirs to send a death certificate and/or a will to the company to prove the heir has legal access to the account.
Elements Needed for a Will (or Will and Testament):
• Clearly identify yourself. Include your full name, birth date, and Social Security Number.
• If you have previous wills, state that and revoke them. This can simply be one sentence stating that this is the most recent version of the will. You should consider supplying the date of revision here, as well.
• State that you are of sound mind. The notary’s and witnesses’ signatures will help prove this, but write the statement anyway.
• Sign and date the will. Our form provides signature and date lines for you, your notary, and your witnesses to fill out. Make sure your witnesses are not beneficiaries – in many states, this can nullify the will or provide grounds for the will to be contested in probate court.
• Write your wishes clearly and specifically. Use percentages for money, specify large ticket items like houses or cars, and state the full names and Social Security Numbers of any minor children and their legal guardians according to the will. Be very clear about the names of your beneficiaries, as well.