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Last Will and Testament

Summary: A last will and testament is a legally binding document that lays out your wished for asset distribution in the event of your death. To be carried out, the document must be valid and legally binding. Estimated Read Time: 7 min

Table of Contents:

  1. What is a Last Will and Testament?
  2. Why Do I Need a Will?
  3. Last Will and Testament Requirements
  4. What is Included in a Last Will and Testament?
  5. What is Not Included in a Last Will and Testament?
  6. How to Write a Last Will and Testament
  7. What Happens After You Create a Will?

A last will and testament, often referred to as a “Will,” is a legal document that outlines how you wish to distribute your assets once you have passed away. Your will can include the establishment of trusts, guardianship of children or pets, and any other provision necessary to fulfill your wishes.

Creating a will is essential because it allows you to ensure your estate is properly taken care of in the event of your death. Without a last will and testament in place, individual state laws will dictate how your possessions and finances are distributed, potentially resulting in actions that do not reflect your preferences. By creating a Will, you maintain authority over who inherits your belongings and the stipulations that may come with your assets.

What is a Last Will and Testament?

A last will and testament is a legally binding document created by you prior to your death that provides the framework for how, when, and to whom you wish for your assets to be distributed upon your death. Your will is one of the most important documents you can create when estate planning.

It is essential to create a will early in your life and maintain it as assets and relationships change and grow. This way, regardless of when you pass away, your assets will be covered.

Often, individuals will wait until they are sick with a chronic condition before they begin the process of writing a will. However, if you die unexpectedly during the process, your will is not legally binding and therefore will not be followed through on properly.

Why Do I Need a Will?

Creating a will is an extremely important task to complete regardless of the number of assets you own. By outlining your assets prior to your death, you are ensuring your loved ones are given exactly what you want them to have.

With a will, even if you have no blood family members alive, you would be able to donate to charitable organizations and gift items to non-blood friends and family.

Without a will in place, your assets could potentially be given to the states. This is not uncommon if you have no living blood relatives. In this case, all of your assets would go to the state to sell and gain profit.

Even if you do have relatives such as a spouse, without a will, the state can still seize your assets as they see fit. Thus, it is important to have a will in place.

Last Will and Testament Requirements

There are certain necessary requirements that will make a last will and testament legally binding.

For your will to be legally binding, you must be of sound mind when creating your will. You must understand the magnitude of your will and fully understand your relationship between you and each beneficiary of your will.

To be legally binding, your will must also be signed by you in your own handwriting. This means, you cannot have someone else sign on your behalf or use an electric signature. You must sign in ink at your own free will.

When signing the will, you must also have at least two witnesses present to verify the above-mentioned factors are true. These witnesses must also sign the will stating they believe you understand the full magnitude of what you are doing and confirm you were the one who signed the document. In most states, your witnesses must not be beneficiaries in your will.

If your will does not meet these three main requirements, it can be thrown out at any time. Depending on where you live, there may be some variation or additional rules in place to ensure your will is valid. In this case, it is important to talk with your estate planning attorney to ensure your will meets all criteria to be a valid document.

What is Included in a Last Will and Testament?

A last will and testament typically cover four main tasks. These include:

  • Appoints an executer
  • Appoints guardians
  • Distributes assets
  • Sets up charitable donations

Each of these four tasks will be outlined in detail throughout your will.

An executor is your personal representative who you have chosen to carry out the wishes placed in your last will and testament. This person will be responsible for reading your will, interpreting it, and ensuring each action item is complete.

You can appoint a friend, relative, spouse, or child as your executor. However, depending on the complexity of your will, it is often recommended to choose your estate attorney to execute your will.

If you have any dependent children or pets, it is important to appoint guardians for them in your will. Your last will and testament should provide a guardian for each child or pet in your care.

However, this guardian should be notified prior to the notarization of your will that they have been appointed as the potential guardian of your dependents should you unexpectedly die.

In the event of your death, your belongings will be distributed to the exact specifications of your last will and testament. You do not need to list each item individually. However, you may be as specific or vague as you wish. Just remember, your will is subject to the interpretation of your executor at the time of your passing.

Lastly, if you wish to include charitable donations of your assets, this will need to be outlined in your will as well. Your executor will ensure the donation is properly set up and completed.

What is Not Included in a Last Will and Testament?

While a last will and testament can be a comprehensive and fully encompassing document, not every asset you own will be distributed based on your will. There are certain assets you may own that already have a distribution process in place for the event of your passing. These assets include:

Jointly owned property will go directly to the individual with whom you shared the property ownership with.

If you own assets with appointed beneficiaries such as bank accounts, investment portfolios, life insurance plans, or pensions, these assets will be distributed based on the beneficiaries set on the account.

Leaving funeral instructions out of your will is also important as your family members may not be able to access your will until after your funeral has passed. It is not uncommon for a will to be read weeks after the loved one has passed.

Because of this, you should have a separate document outlining your funeral wishes to be distributed by your estate planning attorney or appointed family member immediately upon your death.

How to Write a Last Will and Testament

There are several ways you can write a will. Some of the most common include:

  • Doing it yourself
  • Online
  • With an estate attorney

Writing a will on your own can be a difficult process and may not be valid in your state. Before you write your own will, it is important to review your states laws to ensure it will stand in a court of law. Without legal experience, it is possible for you to make errors and leave you in a vulnerable position with your last will and testament.

However, it is possible to write your own will correctly and without legal error. There are templates available to help you draft your own document. Using a template will ensure you do not miss any steps along the way.

Once you have written your own will, you can get the document notarized. Remember, notarization does not make a document legally binding. However, it will give your will more power in court.

If you want to create your will on your own time but want the help of a professional at half of the cost, online will creation services are available to do just that. Using a digital service to help create your will is a great option that is widely available in today’s market.

Before choosing an online service, it is important to vet the company and ensure the service is backed by attorneys who create the valid wills.

If you wish to go the more traditional route, estate planning attorneys are still an effective way to create your will. With an attorney, you can ensure your document is legally binding and robust.

Regardless of the option you choose, writing a will is important step in ensuring your legacy continues on after you die.

What Happens After You Create a Will?

Once your last will and testament has been created, you should revisit is as often as necessary to update any necessary items as you see fit. Whether you feel you have left something or someone out, go through a major life event, or just have a change of mind, you can make endless changes to your will.

Once completed, you should have at least one person who knows exactly where your will is and how to find it when the time comes. Your will should be stores somewhere accessible yet safe from those outside of your inner circle.

Creating a will is one of the most important tasks an individual can complete in their lifetime. Your will is the foundation for the legacy you leave on this earth after you are gone. Continue reading the Estate Planning Online Guide for more resources on how to make a will.

Sources

MedicareFAQ is dedicated to providing you with authentic and trustworthy Medicare information. We have strict sourcing guidelines and work diligently to serve our readers with accurate and up-to-date content.

  1. Last Will and Testament: Definition, Types, and How to Write One, Julia Kagan . Accessed Febuary 2024.
    https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/last-will-and-testament.asp
  2. Last Will and Testament Guide for 2023, NCOA. Accessed Febuary 2024.
    https://www.ncoa.org/adviser/estate-planning/last-will-and-testament/
  3. What is a Will - Complete Guide to a Last Will & Testament, Will and Trust . Accessed Febuary 2024.
    https://trustandwill.com/learn/what-is-a-will
Kayla Hopkins

Kayla Hopkins

Content Editor
Kayla Hopkins is an accomplished writer and Medicare guru serving as the Editor of MedicareFAQ.com. Upon completing her Communications degree from Ohio University, Kayla dedicated her time to understanding the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. With her extensive background as a Licensed Medicare Insurance Agent, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her writing.
Ashlee Zareczny

Ashlee Zareczny

Compliance Manager
Ashlee Zareczny is the Compliance Manager for MedicareFAQ. As a licensed Medicare agent in all 50 states, she is dedicated to educating those eligible for Medicare by providing the necessary resources and tools. Additionally, Ashlee trains new and tenured Medicare agents on CMS compliance guidelines. Ashlee is a Medicare expert who specializes in Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D education.

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