Wills must meet certain standards to be valid. The person making the will, known as the testator, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The testator must appoint an executor, provide for the distribution of his property after death, and sign and date the will in the presence of witnesses. Within these and certain other limitations, however, you can draft a number of different types of wills. Seek the help of an attorney when selecting which type of will is most appropriate for you. Also, keep in mind that state laws for the execution of each type of will vary and should be checked thoroughly.
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A simple will distributes property from the estate of a testator whose finances are uncomplicated. Many testators write simple wills themselves, although the assistance of an attorney can help prevent mistakes that might lead to unintended legal consequences. A simple will should be printed instead of handwritten and should include the testator's name, address and marital status; statements indicating which assets are to go to which beneficiaries; a section appointing an executor for the estate and a guardian for the testator's minor children if the other parent is dead; and places for the testator and two or three witnesses (depending on which state you live in) to print and sign their names. The will should include the date the will was signed, rather than the date it was written.
Testamentary Trust Wills
A testamentary trust will is a will that puts at least some of your property into a trust. A trust distributes your assets to a beneficiary but is administered by a third person who controls when and how the property is distributed to the trust beneficiary. You might establish a spendthrift trust, for example, for the benefit of a financially irresponsible beneficiary. The trust administrator would distribute the trust assets gradually instead of presenting them to the beneficiary in lump sum. Although the estate executor and the trust administrator may be the same person, they do not have to be. The format of a testamentary trust will can be similar to that of a simple will.
A joint will is created by two testators who leave their property to each other -- in other words, the testator who dies first gets everything. In addition, it specifies how the estate will be distributed when the second testator dies. A joint will cannot be revoked without the consent of both testators, meaning that it is irrevocable as soon as one of the testators dies. Like testamentary trust wills, the format of a joint will can be similar to that of a simple will.
Unlike other types of wills, a living will does not distribute property after the death of the testator. Instead, it gives instructions on what type of medical treatment you wish to receive if you become too ill to communicate. For example, you might state that if you become terminally ill and unconscious, you don't want to be hooked up to a feeding tube even if you would die without it. The formal requirements for a living will are more flexible than for a testamentary will, but it should be clear and detailed.
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