What to Include in a Last Will & Testament

By Rob Jennings J.D.

While you will enjoy unlimited freedom to revise your last will and testament during the course of your lifetime, any mistakes you make will not become apparent until you are no longer alive to correct them. In order to provide an orderly administration of your estate for the benefit of your loved ones, your will should cover several key points.

Executor

An executor is an individual whom you appoint in the will to administer your estate. The executor is charged with satisfying valid claims against the estate using estate property, pursuing valid claims that constitute estate property and preserving assets for the benefit of your beneficiaries. The executor must also distribute estate property to your beneficiaries in accordance with the instructions in your will. Your executor can be any competent person of your choosing, but aim to select a financially stable person whom you trust and whose personal life circumstances will not prevent her from carrying out your last wishes. Family members, close friends and lawyers are frequent choices.

Beneficiaries

If you die without leaving a will, the laws of intestate succession in your state will dictate who gets your property. When you write a will, you get to make that decision. Beneficiaries are those who will receive your assets after you die, subject to claims against the estate, and can be friends, family members, schools or charities. In setting forth your beneficiaries, be sure to include enough information so that their identity can be readily ascertained. State law may affect your ability to disinherit a spouse; if your will leaves her nothing or leaves her less than the share allotted her under the applicable statute, she may successfully challenge your will.

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Children

While children are often beneficiaries under a will, the subject of minor children requires special attention. Name a guardian of the estate for property left to children who have not yet reached the age of majority, or place their share of your estate in a trust that you establish in the will. Name a trustee to manage the assets for their benefit. If possible, designate a legal guardian to take care of the children until they become adults. If you are divorced or separated, custody of your minor children will usually vest automatically in the other parent, who will take priority over any guardianship preference you express in a will.

Signatures

Be sure to sign the will in the presence of at least two witnesses, each of whom will sign attesting that they saw you sign that specific document, and have them provide addresses so that your executor can locate them, if necessary. Sign or initial each page and have your witnesses do the same. This will help defeat claims by a challenging party that one page or another was altered after your death.

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How to Make a Legal Will in California

References

Related articles

How to Prepare a Will

A will is a document in which a person describes the management and distribution of her estate after her death. Per common law, a "will" disposed of real property while a "testament" disposed of personal property, but today the courts use the terms interchangeably. No state requires a will, but persons dying without wills cede to the state all decisions about estate distribution. With a will, a testator makes her own inheritance decisions, selects an appropriate executor for her estate, and names a guardian to raise her minor children in the event of her death.

How to Create Last Will & Testament

A last will and testament is an important legal document that governs the distribution of your property after you die. Because of their importance and the possibility of fraud, state laws have certain requirements regarding how wills are written and what they must include so that they may be enforced. A well written will can prevent an expensive legal battle over your estate.

How to Make Your Own Legal Will

It is not that hard to cook up a legal will. Take one testator, over the age of 18 and of sound mind. Add a good dose of testamentary intent, a variety of assets and one or more heirs, according to taste. Finish off with a couple of disinterested witnesses, signatures and dates. Let set at room temperature for as long as possible before serving. This recipe is likely to be please everywhere, but allow for minor adjustments among states.

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