FAQs on a Last Will & Testament

By Beverly Bird

A will is a document that allows you to decide who gets your property when you pass away, who is going to make sure that your beneficiaries get your property and who is going to raise your minor children in your absence, if you have any. If you die without a will, you allow the state where you resided to determine who gets everything you’ve worked for.

Can a Will Be Changed After I Make It?

A will has no legal meaning and is not a permanent document until you die. Until that time, if you change your mind about any or all of its provisions, you can alter it whenever you like. You can add something called a “codicil” that revokes or changes only a portion of your will. A codicil must be signed and witnessed just as the will was. Alternatively, you can make a whole new will, specifically stating in the new one that you are revoking the old one; but even if you don’t, the existence of a newer will revokes the old one by law.

Should I Bequeath all My Property in My Will?

The only property included in a will is that which you own in your sole name and that which does not already have a beneficiary. For instance, if you own a home with your spouse and the deed is in joint names with rights of survivorship, your half of the house would go directly to him when you die. This specific language must be included in the deed, however. Life insurance, annuities and retirement plans usually have named beneficiaries. As long as you have not named your estate as the beneficiary, these assets would also pass directly to the person you named and would not be included in your will.

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Do all Wills Have to Go Through Probate?

Except under very rare circumstances, such as if everything you own passes directly to a named beneficiary, all wills do go through probate. But you can’t avoid probate by dying without a will, either. Part of the probate process involves transferring title of your assets after your death from your name into your beneficiary’s name. Probate clears title so your beneficiary legally owns the asset. If you die without a will, called dying intestate, your property must still pass through probate so ownership can be transferred. The difference is that without a will, the state decides who gets what you own. With a will, you decide. Many states have simplified probate procedures for small estates or uncomplicated estates, so probate of your assets can be accomplished relatively quickly if no one contests your will.

How Do I Disinherit Someone?

As of 2010, only Georgia allows you to disinherit a spouse. If you try to do this in any other state, the law will override your will and give her a portion of your estate anyway. However, you can disinherit anyone else, including your children, except in Louisiana. Talk to an attorney to get the wording right and make sure it will hold up in court if the person you have disinherited decides to contest your will. Generally, if you try to disinherit a child by simply not mentioning her in your will, state law will presume you forgot to mention her and give her a share of your estate anyway.

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West Virginia State Laws on Spouse Inheritance

References

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Transfer of Property After Dying Without a Will in Washington State

A will is your opportunity to leave final instructions for your loved ones, and it can address issues like guardianship for your minor children as well as who should manage your assets after your death. Wills also provide directions regarding how your property should be distributed. If you die without a will, you lose the opportunity to tell your loved ones how to distribute your assets, so your estate will be distributed according to Washington law instead.

Does a Will Leaving Everything to Your Spouse Go Through Probate?

Probate sounds intimidating and difficult to many people, but it is often required, even when you leave everything to your spouse. A will can be very helpful to your family to let them know what you wanted to happen with your property and can even appoint guardians for your minor children, but the will must be probated to be effective. However, there are also several ways to leave assets to your spouse outside the probate process.

Massachusetts Wills & Inheritance

Inheritance laws in Massachusetts depend on whether or not you leave a will. If you do, you decide who gets your property after your death, subject to certain laws. If you do not, the state decides who gets your property. The probate court is much more involved in settling your estate if you leave no will.

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