A Basic Last Will & Testament

by Jill Lewis
    A will describes how to distribute your assets and property upon your death.

    A will describes how to distribute your assets and property upon your death.

    Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    A last will and testament is a legal document that describes how you want to allocate your assets, property and belongings after your death. While the laws regarding last wills and testaments vary from state to state, reading up and following the laws of your state will ensure the validity of the documents. In general though, there are some basic requirements that govern the drafting of all last wills and testaments.

    Eligibility

    According to the Uniform Probate Code, which has been adopted by most states either in full or in part, any individual can make a last will and testament if he is over the age of 18 and of "sound mind." "Sound mind" means that the person making the will, called the "testator," must be able to understand the full meaning and effect of the document at the time of the signing.

    Basic Requirements

    In general, last wills and testaments must be written. Most people use typed or printed templates for their wills, but some states allow for handwritten or "holographic" wills if the document is signed by the testator and the material portions of the document are in the testator's handwriting.

    Provisions

    Basic provisions of a last will and testament should include the naming of an executor who will be responsible for executing the will, an alternate executor in case the first choice is unable or unwilling to carry out his duties, the wishes of the testator in regard to burial or cremation, specific bequests to heirs, and information regarding payment to creditors and any charitable donations. If necessary, a last will and testament could also include the naming of a guardian for any surviving children of the testator.

    Signatures and Witnesses

    Last wills and testaments must be signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two individuals; the requirements vary by state. Depending on the state and the form of the will, the document may also need to be notarized. Neither the notary nor any beneficiaries to the will should serve as witnesses to the will to avoid any implication of undue pressure or influence on the testator. Besides signing the will, which is required in every state, it is also a good practice for the testator to initial and date the bottom of every page of the document.

    About the Author

    Jill Lewis is an attorney in the insurance defense field who combines an active law practice with a freelance writing career. Concentrating on legal articles dedicated to providing practical advice to the layperson, Lewis has written for various online and print publications, including eHow and Business.com. She is a graduate of New York University and the Lewis and Clark School of Law.

    Photo Credits

    • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images