Everything You Need to Know About Wills

What Is The Purpose Of Having A Will Drafted?

A will is a legally binding document that clearly identifies who should inherit what property after that person passes away. Recipients are often spouses, children, charitable organizations, or next-of-kin. Wills can also outline a guardian to take care of minor children. The intention is to avoid legal disputes over inheritance after the death of a family member.


What Makes A Will Valid?

-The testator (person drafting the will) is at least 18 years old and of sound mind,
-The inclusion of a statement explicitly declaring that the document is the testator’s will,
-The will is typed/computer-printed (except in the case of ‘holographic,’ or handwritten wills, which do not hold up in court in several states),
-The document disposes property or appoints a guardian for minor children,
-There is an executor that is appointed, and
-There were at least two witnesses to the testator signing the will.

Some other considerations to keep in mind:

-The testator must sign and date the end of the will in ink,
-The signature must match the name that appears in the will,
-The witness must explicitly see the testator sign the will,
-The witnesses must also sign the will,
-The witnesses cannot be under the age of 18,
-The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the will.


What Happens To My Property And Children If I Pass Away Without Preparing A Will?

If a person dies without preparing a will, the state’s laws of intestate successions governs the inheritance rights. Generally, a spouse and children are the first in line to inherit a deceased’s property. If there is no spouse or children to pass the property onto, the state typically follows the next-of-kin to find the closest relatives to the deceased. If there are no relatives that qualify under a state’s intestate succession laws, then the state receives all of the property. If a guardian of a minor dies without a will and a succession of guardianship laid out, then the state will determine who will become the guardian of the children and inherit the money.


Do I Need A Lawyer To Draft A Valid Will?

The short answer is no, state laws do not require the assistance of a lawyer when preparing a will. That being said, some wills involve very complex legal issues, so even if you draft your own will, it’s always best practice to consult with a lawyer before determining your will is finished.


Can My Will Be Handwritten?

In roughly half of the states, a person may create a ‘holographic will’ (a handwritten will). Unlike other wills, witnesses are unnecessary for holographic wills, but some states require that the testator (the person filing the will) handwrite the entire holographic will from start to finish. Be cautious going this route though, as many probate courts are hesitant to acknowledge the validity of these wills, since it is very difficult to verify.


Can I Disinherit My Spouse?

In community property states, a spouse is legally entitled to half of the property earned during the marriage. While you may delegate your half of the property however you choose, your spouse will still be entitled to their share of the community property. In states where common law governs inheritance, a person may disinherit a spouse through a will. That being said, common law does protect the surviving spouse from complete disinheritance.


If you found this article helpful, be sure to read Will And Estate Planning FAQ.

Need advice?
Revised: Feb. 11, 2016, 6:03 p.m.
Return to blog