FAQs on a Last Will and Testament

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

FAQs on a Last Will and Testament

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

A last will and testament allows you to decide who will receive your assets upon your death. You can name beneficiaries to inherit your property and someone to raise your minor children. Each state has its own laws regarding such documents, and you must follow those laws for the document to be valid. However, many of the same general rules apply across states.

Young man helping an elderly couple fill out paperwork

Frequently Asked Questions

The following frequently asked questions might help you better understand the purpose and powers of a last will and testament.

What happens if I die without one?

A person who dies without one has died intestate. Each state has laws of intestacy that determine who receives the assets of the deceased when no valid will is in place. In this case, courts do not consider the wishes and desires of the decedent. Instead, they follow the laws of their states.

Who can draft one?

In general, any adult of sound mind can draft it. The individual who is the subject of the will is the testator. Some states allow younger individuals to create them if they are married or in the military. Further, the testator must be aware of their property and aware of their heirs and must intend to draft the document.

Can you modify it?

A will is not a permanent document. You can change it in whole or in part at any time, as long as you are alive and have the mental capacity to do so.

What is a personal representative?

A testator names their personal representative, also known as an executor, in their will. The personal representative is responsible for administering it and for seeing that the wishes of the testator as expressed in the document are followed. In general, the personal representative is responsible for paying all valid debts and transferring any remaining property to the appropriate named heirs. Some states establish additional legal responsibilities for the personal representative.

Can my heirs to avoid court?

It does not allow your heirs to avoid court. In fact, relying on a will virtually ensures that your estate has go through a court process called probate. During probate, the court oversees the final administration of your estate.

Can I avoid estate and other death taxes?

No, a will does not allow you to avoid estate and other death taxes. Your estate will still be subject to appropriate state and federal taxes. Depending on your jurisdiction, it may also be subject to additional taxes sometimes referred to as death taxes.

Where should I store my executed will?

It is important to store it in a secure location. You must keep the original draft; copies are not a valid substitute. However, do not place it in a safe deposit box. Your personal representative must obtain the document after your death, and they may not be able to access to your safe deposit box. Further, make sure someone you trust knows of its location.

A last will and testament allows you to make decisions for your property and family after your death. Neglecting to execute one means that if you die, the state will make those decisions for you. Take control and execute yours as soon as possible.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.