A legal Last Will and Testament is a document that is acceptable by your state's standards and details the distribution of your assets after you die. Your will names an executor, the person you appoint to legally control the aspects of your estate. A will that is missing information and does not conform to your state's content standards may not be admissible to probate court or more open to contest from an unhappy heir.
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Some states require wills be typed out, although a handwritten will may be acceptable under certain circumstances as determined by the probate court judge. Other states allow handwritten wills, but the handwriting must be decipherable and, in some cases, verified by a handwriting expert. The will needs to be dated, and the dated signatures of the person the will belongs to and the persons witnessing the will must be present in most states. The number of witnesses your need for your will varies by state, and your witnesses generally should not be heirs or beneficiaries on the will; using heirs or beneficiaries as witnesses may be viewed as a conflict of interest later.
Your will should detail which assets go to what person. You may leave items to persons who are not your legal heirs, such as a friend, church or charity, but the directions should be clear; if you are leaving a friend money, you should stipulate the amount, and if you are leaving a person an item, like jewelry, the type and karat should be noted to avoid confusion. Leaving vague directions in your will may leave some asset allocation decisions in the hands of the court if your beneficiaries cannot come to an agreement about what you meant. The probate judge's decision may be based on the rules of the court in your state and his interpretation of your wishes.
All of the individuals whom you are leaving items and money to in your will need to be identified in most states. If you are leaving an item to your brother, for example, you need to give your brother's full name, and in some states, current address, rather than simply writing "my brother." When leaving items to a religious congregation, you may want to specify the clergy member the item goes to -- if the church is closed, the item may be absorbed by the organization itself rather than the clergy member you intended.
Some states dictate you identify an heir you are not leaving any share of the estate to, with a statement indicating you do not wish to leave anything to that particular person. You may not have to give your reason for omitting the heir, but not naming the heir at all may be viewed as a mistake on your part rather than your actual intentions.
Appointment of Executor
Your executor may be any person over the required age to serve as such in your state -- usually 18 or 21 -- and must be named in your will. You may include a list of duties your executor is allowed to perform, like selling assets, but not all states require duties be listed. Naming the executor may be enough in your state to permit the person to act as executor as allowed under your state's probate laws.
References & Resources
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