FAQs on a Last Will & Testament

by Beverly Bird
By creating a will, you can protect your family and assets in the event of death.

By creating a will, you can protect your family and assets in the event of death.

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A will is a document that allows you to decide who gets your property when you pass away, who is going to make sure that your beneficiaries get your property and who is going to raise your minor children in your absence, if you have any. If you die without a will, you allow the state where you resided to determine who gets everything you’ve worked for.

Can a Will Be Changed After I Make It?

A will has no legal meaning and is not a permanent document until you die. Until that time, if you change your mind about any or all of its provisions, you can alter it whenever you like. You can add something called a “codicil” that revokes or changes only a portion of your will. A codicil must be signed and witnessed just as the will was. Alternatively, you can make a whole new will, specifically stating in the new one that you are revoking the old one; but even if you don’t, the existence of a newer will revokes the old one by law.

Should I Bequeath all My Property in My Will?

The only property included in a will is that which you own in your sole name and that which does not already have a beneficiary. For instance, if you own a home with your spouse and the deed is in joint names with rights of survivorship, your half of the house would go directly to him when you die. This specific language must be included in the deed, however. Life insurance, annuities and retirement plans usually have named beneficiaries. As long as you have not named your estate as the beneficiary, these assets would also pass directly to the person you named and would not be included in your will.

Do all Wills Have to Go Through Probate?

Except under very rare circumstances, such as if everything you own passes directly to a named beneficiary, all wills do go through probate. But you can’t avoid probate by dying without a will, either. Part of the probate process involves transferring title of your assets after your death from your name into your beneficiary’s name. Probate clears title so your beneficiary legally owns the asset. If you die without a will, called dying intestate, your property must still pass through probate so ownership can be transferred. The difference is that without a will, the state decides who gets what you own. With a will, you decide. Many states have simplified probate procedures for small estates or uncomplicated estates, so probate of your assets can be accomplished relatively quickly if no one contests your will.

How Do I Disinherit Someone?

As of 2010, only Georgia allows you to disinherit a spouse. If you try to do this in any other state, the law will override your will and give her a portion of your estate anyway. However, you can disinherit anyone else, including your children, except in Louisiana. Talk to an attorney to get the wording right and make sure it will hold up in court if the person you have disinherited decides to contest your will. Generally, if you try to disinherit a child by simply not mentioning her in your will, state law will presume you forgot to mention her and give her a share of your estate anyway.