last will and testament paper with pen and reading glasses

Last Wills 101: Everything You Need to Know

A will may contain, among other things, specific instructions on how your estate is to be distributed, to whom properties are to be given, and several other intricacies that require your close attention.

If you’re on the receiving end of a will, you should hire a probate lawyer who will take care of all the legal leg work to prove the validity of the will in which you’re identified as an heir. Probate lawyers also handle other matters such as challenges to the will, claims made by creditors, estate administration, and the like.

Here are the things that you need to know about wills:

There are strict parameters for a valid will

A will is only valid if it has satisfied the following parameters:

  • Written. A critical parameter of a valid will is that it must be written (or typed) by or for the person making the will (called a testator). A few states do recognize spoken wills provided that they satisfy specific parameters.
  • Voluntary. The will must not involve coercion.
  • Made by a person of legal age and sound mind. The testator must be of legal age and with a sound mind at the time of writing and signing the will.
  • Signed by the person executing the will. The person making the will should sign it.
  • Dated. The will should bear the date when it was signed.
  • Signed by two disinterested witnesses. Disinterested witnesses are parties who are not named as heirs or who do not stand to benefit from the will. Note that in some cases, beneficiaries are allowed to sign as witnesses.
  • Lists all the properties to be distributed. The will must clearly identify all the properties of the testator that are to be distributed.
  • Lists all the heirs or beneficiaries. The will must also identify the specific heir/s or beneficiaries vis-à-vis the properties listed.
  • Names an executor. This person ensures that the content of the will is enforced following the testator’s death. In the absence of one in the will, the court simply appoints an executor.

Senior man stating his will to his lawyer

Qualified beneficiaries

The testator may assign his properties and assets to any of the following qualified beneficiaries:

  • Immediate family members. May include the spouse, children, and grandchildren. Under existing state laws, spouses are protected from being disinherited, while minor children may be disinherited with Louisiana as the sole exception.
  • Friends. Friends may also receive part of the testator’s estate.
  • Institutions. Charitable, educational, or scientific institutions may also be named as beneficiaries.

You don’t need a lawyer to have a valid will

You’re not in any way obligated to hire a lawyer just for your will to be valid. As long as the manner by which your will was prepared ticks all the checkmarks of a valid will under your state’s law, then you’re good to go.

You should, ideally, have a valid will ASAP

If you don’t want your hard-earned properties and assets to be distributed to parties that you don’t want to have anything given to, then have a valid will prepared ASAP. When you die without one, you will become what is called an intestate, which is a fancy way of saying that your estate will be distributed under your state’s applicable law and could disinherit qualified beneficiaries.

With these critical pieces of information, will preparation and execution should be easier for you.

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