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A will, known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that outlines an individual's wishes to distribute their property and assets after their death. It is a crucial document that ensures that the person's property is distributed according to their wishes and minimizes any disputes or conflicts between family members.

Essentials of a Will

A will is a legal document outlining how a person's assets will be distributed after death. In the United States, the essentials of a will include the following:

  • Declaration of Intent: The will should begin with a declaration of intent that clearly states that it is the individual's last will and that they are of sound mind and legal age to make a will.
  • Appointment of an Executor: The will should name an executor responsible for carrying out the terms of the will and distributing assets to the beneficiaries.
  • Identification of Beneficiaries: The will should identify the beneficiaries who will receive the assets and property of the individual after their death. Beneficiaries can include family members, friends, or charitable organizations.
  • Disposition of Assets: The will should outline how the individual's assets will be distributed among their beneficiaries. It may include specific bequests of money or property or a general distribution of assets.
  • Residuary Clause: The will should include a residuary clause, which directs how any assets not specifically mentioned in the will should be distributed.
  • Signature and Witnesses: The will must be signed by the individual making the will and witnessed by at least two people who are not beneficiaries.

It is important to note that the requirements for creating a valid will can vary from state to state in the United States, so it is important to consult with an attorney to ensure that your will meets the legal requirements in your state.

How to Draft a Will

Below are the steps you must follow in drafting a will.

  1. Start with an Inventory of Your Assets. The first step in writing a will is to inventory your assets. It includes your bank accounts, real estate, investments, personal property, and other assets. Be sure to include any debts that you may owe as well.
  2. Decide on Your Beneficiaries. Once you have an inventory of your assets, you must decide who you want to inherit your property. You can leave your assets to anyone, but it's important to be specific about whom you leave each asset to. You can also designate alternate beneficiaries if your first choice cannot inherit the asset.
  3. Choose an Executor. An executor is a person who will be responsible for carrying out the terms of your will after you die. You can choose anyone you want to be your executor, but choosing someone responsible and trustworthy is important. Choosing someone familiar with your financial situation and estate planning goals is also a good idea.
  4. Consider Setting up Trusts. If you have minor children or other beneficiaries who may not be able to manage their inheritance, you may want to consider setting up trusts. A trust allows you to control how your assets are distributed and can provide ongoing financial support for your beneficiaries.
  5. Choose a Type of Will. There are several different types of wills that you can create, depending on your needs and goals. Here are some of the most common types of wills:
    • Simple Will: A simple will is a basic document that outlines how your assets will be distributed after your death. It does not include any trusts or other complicated provisions.
    • Living Will: A living will is a document that outlines your wishes regarding medical treatment if you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself.
    • Pour-Over Will: A pour-over will is used in conjunction with a trust. It transfers any assets not already in the trust into the trust after your death.
    • Holographic Will: A holographic will is a handwritten will that is not witnessed. It is only valid in certain states and maybe more scrutinized than other wills.
    • Joint Will: A joint will is a document created by two people, usually spouses, who leave their assets to each other. The surviving spouse then inherits all the assets after the other spouse dies.
  6. Work with an Attorney. While creating a will on your own is possible, working with an attorney is generally a good idea. An attorney can help you ensure your will is legally valid and accurately reflects your wishes. They can also help you navigate any complex estate planning issues that may arise.
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Key Terms for Wills

  • Beneficiary: An individual named to inherit funds or other belongings in a legal document. Wills, trusts, and insurance policies generally name beneficiaries for "payable-on-death" accounts.
  • Executor: The person designated in a will and appointed by the probate tribunal after the will-maker's demise to wind up the matters of a departed individual. In some states in the U.S., executors are called "personal representatives."
  • Residue or Residuary Estate: All real estate property subject to a will not be offered away explicitly in the will. Generally, a will leaves specific valuable articles to named beneficiaries and then "the rest and remains of the estate" to another heir.
  • Inheritance Tax: A state tax imposed on people who inherit property. Only a few states in the U.S. levy estate tax, and most exempt immediate family members from the tax.

Final Thoughts on Wills

A will is a fundamental statutory document in an individual's inheritance plan. It spreads out a person's final wishes about their assets and belongings. It provides thorough instructions about how to allot their possessions. Nevertheless, there are specific things a will cannot perform for a person, such as helping a household avoid probate or reducing estate taxes.

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Estate Planning

Will

Washington

Asked on Dec 11, 2023

I want to leave my house to my grandson but give my daughter the right to live there as long as she lives. What kind of wording is needed in my will in WA State?

I want to leave my house to my grandson but allow his mom (my daughter) to live there through the end of her life. How do I word this in my will? The three of us have always lived together; my wife died recently.

Matthew S.

Answered Dec 16, 2023

You would leave the house to your grandson while granting your daughter a life estate in the property.

Read 1 attorney answer>

Estate Planning

Will

Washington

Asked on Dec 11, 2023

How do I exclude a child from my will?

I want to write my will and exclude an estranged son. Can I just have a paragraph stating my son's name and that he is to receive nothing whatsoever from my estate? Should I leave him $1.00? Is there a preferred approach to make sure he can't contest my will and receive anything? We've been estranged for years. Thanks.

Matthew S.

Answered Dec 15, 2023

Yes, you could structure your will in that way. You don't even need to leave $1.

Read 1 attorney answer>
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