A last will and testament is an important legal document that governs the distribution of your property after you die. Because of their importance and the possibility of fraud, state laws have certain requirements regarding how wills are written and what they must include so that they may be enforced. A well written will can prevent an expensive legal battle over your estate.
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Title the document "Last Will and Testament." A will must clearly indicate that it is intended to be a will in order to be enforced.
State your full name and address and declare that you are at least 18 years old, are of sound mind and memory, that this is your last will and testament and it revokes any previous wills or codicils, and that you are not subject to duress or undue influence with respect to the making of the will. All of these declarations anticipate possible challenges to the enforceability of your will.
Name an executor and an alternate executor. The executor is the person who will administer your estate while your assets are being distributed. Choose someone you trust, who is also familiar with your property.
Name a guardian and an alternate guardian for your minor children and any other dependent children, if you are the sole surviving parent. Although the court will not be obligated to appoint your nominee, your nomination will be persuasive.
Name your beneficiaries and clearly state what property goes to whom. If your estate is extensive, you may need to spend some time compiling an exhaustive list of your assets. Write in such as way as to remove all ambiguity from your language.
Name a beneficiary for the residue of your estate. The residue of your estate is any property that you did not mention in the previous step, including any property that you may acquire between the time you draft your will and the time you die.
Sign and date your will in the presence of two or three witnesses, depending on state law. The witnesses must sign the will, as well, and must do so in each other's presence.
- Comprehensive list of your assets
Tips & Warnings
Research the law of your state before signing your will, because laws differ slightly from state to state.
Your spouse and minor children have a legal right to some of your property after you die, and the law will override the provisions of your will if you fail to provide it to them. The exact amount varies according to state law. It is not possible to exclude a spouse or child in some community property states.
References & Resources
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