Widely called simply a will, a last will and testament allows you to control who will care for your minor children and who will receive your property after you die. If you do not prepare a valid will before you die, the probate court in the section of the state you lived in at the time of your death will distribute any property you owned instead. Preparing a will, either on your own or with assistance, is the best way to avoid having state laws determine what happens to your possessions, which may conflict with your personal wishes.
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List your assets and decide who you want to receive them after your death and in what quantity. Although many people name relatives and friends as beneficiaries, you can leave property to anyone you choose, in addition to organizations such as charities.
Start the will with a section that states your full name and complete address. Then state the following document is your will and you revoke all previous wills and related amendments you have prepared.
Compose another section that indicates who will pay your funeral expenses and other debts. This person is your executor and you can select more than one.
Create a section that identifies who you want to take care of your minor children, if you have any. Obtaining permission from the guardian or guardians in advance is preferable.
Compose additional sections that indicate how you want your assets distributed and to whom. Use clear, unambiguous language to avoid creating an opportunity for someone to challenge the will later. For example, write "I give" instead of "I wish that."
Complete another section beginning with words similar to "I leave the remainder of my estate to," followed by a recipient. This residuary clause helps to ensure any assets you failed to mention elsewhere in the document will be distributed according to your wishes.
Sign and date the will when you have finished including all relevant information. Executing a will requires signing it in the presence of at least two witnesses, both of whom must not be recipients of any property you distribute in the will and both of whom must not be able to benefit from your future death. After the witnesses observe you signing the will, they must also sign it while you and both of them are present.
Tips & Warnings
Preparing a will can be difficult, especially since laws governing wills vary by state. Many legal professionals recommend consulting an attorney who specializes in estate planning even if you do prepare your own will. Such attorneys have the experience and knowledge to help you avoid legal issues that could complicate carrying out your wishes following your death.
References & Resources
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