A “last will and testament” is a legal document that outlines how you want your properties or estate distributed, once you pass away. If there are no present problems with your assets and properties, you can create a fully legal will and avoid legal fees. Since this is such an important document, you should try to understand the various components in a last will and testament.
Considerations Before Creating Your Will
Know your state’s requirements. Each state has different requirements as to the legality of a last will and testament. The standardization of these conditions was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform Estate Laws in matters pertaining to estates. This act is called The Uniform Probate Code (UPC). This was adopted by 17 states and in part, by other states as well. Their differences are:
- Whether witnesses need to or need not be present when you sign your will
- Whether notarization is required or not; this varies depending on the state where you live. Many banks offer free notarization, so you can easily get your will notarized
- Whether handwritten wills are valid or invalid, depending on your state of residence. You can have a fully drawn out will that conforms to the requirements of your state
Upon knowing the state requirements, make sure that you thoroughly understand and fulfill those required components. Laws can be amended every year, so go through the process every few years to make sure your will is current and up-to-date.
Key Components of a Last Will and Testament
Your name, social security number, and address will help avoid confusion as to the identifying the real person who wrote the will.
- Include your date of birth as further proof of your identity
- If you have no social security number, some other form of positive ID number should be included
Declaration of sound mental health, contractual capacity, and your expressed last wishes are important steps in order to make your will legally viable. The following are usually essential components of your will:
- I declare that this is my last will and testament, and that I hereby revoke, annul, and cancel all wills and codicils previously made by me, either jointly or severally
- I declare that I am of legal age to make this will, and that I am sound of mind
- This last will expresses my wishes without undue influence or duress
Include family details. If leaving a part of your estate to members your family, their names and relationships should be indicated in your will:
- I am married to [spouse’s first and last name], hereafter referred to as my spouse
- I have the following children: [list children’s first and last names as well as their dates of birth]
Appoint an Executor. The executor or personal representative is the appointed person who will oversee the instructions as indicated in your will after you are gone. States have their own rules as to who can serve as an executor. Generally, anyone who is at least 18 years old and living within the state can be appointed as an executor. As the maker of the will, you should care enough to know if the person you will appoint as an executor is trustworthy, thrifty, prudent and resourceful. A backup executor can also be appointed in case the first one cannot live up to his responsibilities. The following lines can be are examples to cover executors:
- I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint [executor’s first and last name] as Executor.
- If this Executor is unable or unwilling to serve, then I appoint [backup executor’s first and last name] as alternate Executor.
Empower the executor. State the executor’s responsibilities and at the same time his authority over your estate, funeral expenses, and other items. You can also indicate whether the appointed executor can post bond or serve without bond. Clauses empowering the Executor can be stated in your will to do the following:
- Sell any real estate in which you may own an interest at the time of your death and to pledge it, lease it, mortgage it or otherwise deal with your real estate as you yourself would do.
- Pay all of your just debts, funeral expenses, taxes, and estate administration expenses. This allows your heirs to take their shares without later deductions or complications.
Bequeath your assets. Use percentages in stating the way in which your assets will be divided among your beneficiaries.
- Include provisions that clearly explain who gets a beneficiary’s gift if that person dies before you.
- Use conditional language if you want a deceased beneficiary’s gift to just go back into the pot and be divided among your living beneficiaries in shares proportionate to what you provided for them.
Make special requests. The lines “I direct on my death my remains shall..”stipulate how your remains should be handled, the place of burial and how the cost will be handled.
Sign the will. Affix your signature at the end of the will including your name, date, and location. If your state requires witnesses, make sure you have their presence and their signature on your documents declaring that you sign in their presence and that you are of legal age and sound mind when you signed your will.
- Always be aware of the state law governing the will and testament in your place of residence. Its validity will be affected if state laws are not followed.
- Put your initials on each page of your will.
What to do after you write your Will
- Store the will in a safe place. Only tell the executor where you keep your will. This will be filed in court only after your death. Or you can give your executor a second copy or second original copy.
- Do not add anything on your will once it is written and signed. In case of changes in the future, a separate document or “condicil” can be use that can explicitly refer to the original will.