What Is the Meaning of Last Will & Testament?

By Carrie Ferland

A last will and testament is a legal document that conveys the final wishes of a decedent for the administration and division of his estate after his passing. Wills are used to avoid state guidelines for intestate succession by providing instructions on how to carry out these wishes to the executor appointed by the decedent within the will. Historically, the distinction between “will” and “testament” was quite specific: the word “will” was used to when referring to the decedent’s real property, while “testament” conveyed the dispositions of his personal property. In modern times, the distinction is largely ignored, and the term “last will and testament” is merely used as a formal title for the legal document itself, which most now refer to simply as “will.”

A last will and testament is a legal document that conveys the final wishes of a decedent for the administration and division of his estate after his passing. Wills are used to avoid state guidelines for intestate succession by providing instructions on how to carry out these wishes to the executor appointed by the decedent within the will. Historically, the distinction between “will” and “testament” was quite specific: the word “will” was used to when referring to the decedent’s real property, while “testament” conveyed the dispositions of his personal property. In modern times, the distinction is largely ignored, and the term “last will and testament” is merely used as a formal title for the legal document itself, which most now refer to simply as “will.”

The Testator

A person who executes a will is known as a testator. While a testator can establish a will herself, she can also retain someone else -- such as an attorney or a trusted relative -- to draft a will for her. The testator’s name must appear at the top of the will, indicating it expresses her final wishes, and she must sign the bottom of the will herself to execute it. When the testator passes away, she is then known as the decedent, and her appointed executor files her will with the probate court to initiate probate proceedings.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

“Last” Will & Testament

The use of the term “last” is perhaps the most important of the entire phrase. “Last” defines the document as the decedent’s final will and testament, which is the only document acknowledged by the probate courts. The term is most significant when the decedent executed multiple wills prior to passing, which is very common to do as a person’s family, property and subsequent desires change as she grows older. By titling the document as the “last” will and testament, the decedent revokes all previous wills she executed and ensures that this document will serve to convey her last wishes by superseding the existence of anything prior.

Function & Use

Wills are used as part of estate planning, which is the practice of a testator preparing a plan for the management and administration of her estate following death. The main function of a will is to express the testator’s instructions as a legal document, which ensures the testator’s wishes supersede the wishes of anyone or anything else, including applicable governing law. A will is also extremely versatile, allowing a testator to arrange for the guardianship and care of her minor children, appoint a trustee to manage the entire estate and disperse the estate’s income to her beneficiaries or plan for just about anything her surviving family needs.

Elements of a Last Will & Testament

For a will to be valid, it must exhibit four specific elements. First, the document must state that it is, in fact, the final will and testament of the testator, and revoke any prior wills that they may have previously executed. Second, the will should appoint at least one executor to assume control of the estate upon death and ensure the testator’s wishes are carried out. Third, the will should name and describe the estate’s assets, define the testator’s beneficiaries and state what each is to inherit. Last, and most importantly, the document should bear the signatures of the testator and at least two witnesses who can verify the testator’s identity and her state of mind at the time she signed the will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Makes a Will Legal & Binding?

References

Related articles

The Format for a Legal Will

While probate laws defining the format for a valid will vary from state to state, most states acknowledge at least two different types of wills as valid. All states recognize the written will -- the most common format -- which is signed by the testator and two additional witnesses. However, technology and creativity makes way for newer formats, especially when the testator does not have access to the materials needed to execute a traditional will, and state law has evolved to recognize other, less common formats. It is important to note that, with the exception of the written will, not every state recognizes all formats as valid. Testators should always review their residential state’s probate code to determine what formats are acceptable before establishing a final will.

Do Wills Expire?

Wills are perpetual by nature, which means once the testator proofs and validates his will, it will never terminate. In this regard, a will can never actually “expire,” and there is no restriction that limits the time during which a will is still valid. However, there are certain ways a testator can terminate the validity of his will during his lifetime, and additional restrictions on the time during which the executor of the will can initiate probate.

Massachusetts Last Will & Testament

The Uniform Probate Code, or UPC, is a non-compulsory uniform code that defines nationwide standards for establishing, executing and probating wills. Like many states, Massachusetts chose not to adopt the Uniform Probate Code in full, instead electing to partially adopt specific sections and define a supplementary statewide probate code to build upon these portions. The Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, enacted as part of the Massachusetts General Laws in 2009, defines the state's guidelines for estate planning, probate and intestacy succession rules.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

About Making a Will

A will is a legal document that defines the final wishes of a deceased person. The author, or otherwise known as the ...

What Is the Format for Writing a Will?

Executing a will is the only way to avoid intestacy probate, wherein the court divides a decedent’s estate ...

Living Trusts vs. Last Wills

Planning your estate is the key to ensuring that your loved ones are provided for after your passing. However, the cost ...

Last Wills Versus Trusts

Last will and testaments and living trusts are both integral to estate planning, although each has their unique ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED