A will is a document that explains how you want your property distributed when you die, according to the American Bar Association. It may also explain who should take care of your estate's business, who should take care of your minor children and similar matters. Understanding the most common questions about wills can help you ensure you're making solid estate planning decisions for you and your family. Consult an attorney if you have any remaining questions about wills.
What Does a Will Do?
Your will leaves instructions for distributing your property when you die. With a few exceptions based on your state's laws, you can leave your property to anyone you choose, including stepchildren, godchildren, distant relatives or friends. If you have minor children, your will may also name a guardian for them, as well as a conservator to ensure that any money you leave them is handled wisely. A will does not cover some assets, such as life insurance policies, unless you designate your estate as the beneficiary of the policy, according to the ABA.
What Happens if I Die Without a Will?
If you die without a will, trust or other method for distributing your estate, your state's laws will determine who receives your estate. People who die without a will are said to die intestate, and the laws covering their estates are called intestacy laws. In most states, your current spouse, children or parents will inherit your property if you die without a will. If no one is living who can inherit your property according to your state's laws, then the state takes your property, according to the ABA. Consult an attorney in your state to learn about your state's laws of intestacy.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will?
No state requires you to have an attorney prepare your will for you. However, consulting an attorney is a smart move. If you have a large estate with lots of assets, you probably will want to use a trust to transfer some of your assets. If you have minor children, an attorney can help you ensure that your will covers your entire estate and provides for your children. An attorney can also write your will in a way that may prevent people from contesting it after your death, according to FindLaw.
How Do I Make a Valid Will?
In most states, a valid will must do several things. First, it must indicate that it is your will. Second, it must have at least one clause distributing some part of your estate to a person or charity. Third, it must be signed by you and must contain the date you signed it. Finally, in most states a will must also contain the signatures of at least two witnesses who watched you sign your will and are aware that it is your will, according to FindLaw. An attorney who practices estate law in your state can inform you whether your state has any other specific requirements.