What is a Will: Your Guide to Last Will & Testaments

Death and mortality are not topics that we often like to think about, let alone discuss. However, as responsible adults, we should consider what will happen after we pass away. One way to ensure our assets and wishes are properly carried out is by having a will in place.

A will, also known as a last will, is a legal document that outlines your wishes for the distribution of your assets after death. Despite its importance, many people don’t fully understand what a will entails or why it’s necessary.

In this blog post, we will provide you with an in-depth guide on everything you need to know about wills.

Understanding the Basics of a Will

A will essentially serves as a roadmap, guiding your loved ones on how to distribute your belongings and assets after your demise. It usually stipulates the distribution of items such as property, stocks, cash, and personal belongings to your designated beneficiaries.

Furthermore, for individuals with minor children, a will can be used to appoint a guardian. The person who creates the will is referred to as the ‘testator’, and the individuals or organizations that are to receive the assets are known as ‘beneficiaries’.

The execution of a will is overseen by a trusted person, known as the ‘executor’, who ensures that the testator’s wishes are carried out as specified in the document. The validity of a will is contingent upon it being signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two individuals who are not beneficiaries.

Understanding the basics of a will is a critical part of estate planning. Remember, a will is more than just a tool for asset distribution after death—it’s a way to ensure your wishes are respected, and your loved ones are taken care of in the best possible way.

Components of a Will

A will typically comprises several fundamental components that come together to form a comprehensive legal document. Let’s break down these components for a clearer understanding:

  1. Testator: This is the individual who writes and executes the will.
  2. Beneficiaries: These are the people, trusts, charities, or other organizations to whom you leave your assets.
  3. Executor: This individual is responsible for administering the will and ensuring that the terms of the will are carried out effectively after your demise.
  4. Assets: These can include tangible properties like houses or cars, and intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks, or bonds.
  5. Guardianship: If you have minor children, the will should specify who will be their guardian in the event of your death.
  6. Witnesses: For a will to be valid, it must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, who also must sign the document.

Understanding these components can help you in drafting a will that accurately reflects your wishes and provides for your loved ones according to your intentions.

Types of Wills

There are various types of wills, each suited to different circumstances and requirements. Here are some common types:

  1. Simple Wills: Also known as a ‘basic will’, a simple will outlines who gets what after you pass away. It also allows you to choose an executor to carry out your wishes.
  2. Joint Wills: A joint will is made by two individuals, usually a married couple, leaving their assets to each other.
  3. Living Wills: Unlike the traditional will, a living will does not distribute assets. Instead, it outlines your wishes for medical care should you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your decisions.
  4. Testamentary Trust Wills: This type of will creates one or more trusts at the time of your demise. The assets specified in the testamentary trust will be managed by a trustee you chose.
  5. Holographic Wills: These are handwritten wills. Even though they are not typically witnessed, some states consider them legal if it can be proven that the handwriting is indeed the testator’s.
  6. Pour Over Wills: This type of will works in conjunction with a trust. It serves to ‘pour’ any remaining assets into an already established trust upon your death.

Understanding the different types of wills helps you make an informed decision about the best way to manage your assets and protect your family’s future. Always seek professional advice if you’re unsure about which type of will is right for your circumstances.

Creating Your Will

Creating a will can seem daunting, but it needn’t be. By following several methodical steps, you can ensure that your will is a valid, enforceable document that encapsulates your wishes.

1. Identify Your Assets: Start by making a comprehensive list of your assets. It should include real estate, vehicles, jewelry, financial instruments like stocks or bonds, bank accounts, and any other ownership interests you may have.

2. Specify Beneficiaries: Decide who will inherit your assets. You can designate specific items for certain individuals or distribute your entire estate equally among a group.

3. Select an Executor: Choose a responsible, trustworthy person who will execute your will as per your directions after your passing. This person will administer your estate, settle any debts, and distribute your assets.

4. Appoint Guardians: If you have minor children, you can use your will to appoint guardians for them. It is an important decision, so ensure you choose someone capable and willing to take on the responsibility.

5. Choose Witnesses: Your will must be signed by at least two witnesses to signify its legal enforceability. The witnesses should not be beneficiaries of your will to avoid any conflict of interest.

6. Consult a Legal Professional: While it’s possible to create a will on your own, consulting with an attorney can help ensure that your will is legally valid and all your bases are covered.

Remember, creating a will is not a one-time event. Life circumstances change, and so should your will. Regularly review and update your will to ensure it always reflects your current wishes and situation.

Executing and Updating Your Will

Executing your will is the process of ensuring it is legally valid and adheres to the laws of your state or country. It involves signing the document in the presence of at least two witnesses who are not beneficiaries.

Once signed, it is advisable to store your will in a secure location, such as a safe deposit box or with a trusted attorney. Inform your executor of its location so that it can be easily accessed upon your passing.

Updating your will is equally important. Life is not stagnant, and changes such as marriage, divorce, birth of children, death of beneficiaries, and acquisition or disposal of assets, among others, can necessitate modifications to your will. Regular reviews, ideally annually or after any significant life event, are recommended.

If modifications are required, you can make an addendum known as a ‘codicil’, or create a new will entirely. Any changes should also meet the same legal requirements as the initial will, including being signed by you and at least two witnesses. You must also clearly state that the new will revoke all previous versions to avoid confusion or disputes.

Remember, neglecting to update your will could potentially lead to disputes among your loved ones or your assets not being distributed as per your current wishes. Always consult a legal professional when making changes to your will to ensure it remains valid and accurately reflects your intentions.

In Conclusion

Drafting a will is a significant step in estate planning. It ensures the proper distribution of your assets according to your wishes and offers a sense of peace by knowing your loved ones will be cared for after your demise.

Understanding the basics of a will, its components, the different types of wills and the steps involved in creating and updating one can provide you with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about your estate.

However, it is always recommended to consult with a legal professional when creating or revising a will, to ensure that it is legally valid and accurately reflects your intentions. Remember, life is unpredictable, and having a will in place is a responsible act that can save your loved ones from potential disputes and hardships.

About Us

Having the right guidance is crucial to ensure your last will is written and executed properly. The right attorney will guide you every step of the way and help you become financially secure.

Cambridge Tax and Trust is here to do just that. Our team of attorneys works tirelessly to help ensure your assets are secured and you don’t have to worry about the legalities of creating a will, trust, and wealth management.

You can reach us at 212.444.9970 or fill out our contact form to learn more about what we do! Schedule a consultation today to get started with your estate planning!