Frequently Asked Questions About Wills And Trusts
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that specifies how a person’s property and assets should be handled after their death. The person making the will can give instructions on how the property should be divided, who should receive what portions or specific items, and even who will take care of any surviving minor children.
Why should I have a will?
- To direct the disposition of your property to the people and/or charities in the proportions you desire.
- To avoid application of the intestacy laws.
- To simplify estate administration and reduce post-death costs.
- To designate fiduciaries, including personal representative, guardian or trustee.
- To establish trusts.
What will happen if I die and do not have a will?
If you were to die with no will or other comparable estate planning tool, it is called dying intestate. State statutes then dictate how an estate is divided which is determined as part of a court proceeding called probate. In such a proceeding, the state’s intestacy laws determine who will receive what portion of your assets.
What is required for a will to be valid?
Wills must meet state legal requirements to be effective. Consult with one of our attorneys for professional guidance to make sure that your will is valid.
When does a will become operative?
A will only becomes operative upon the death of the person who made the will.
How can a person change a will?
If a will is valid, it is effective until it is changed, revoked, destroyed, or invalidated by the writing of a new will. Changes or additions to an otherwise acceptable will can be most easily accomplished by adding a codicil. A codicil is a document amending the original will, with equally binding effect. Therefore, a codicil must be executed in compliance with applicable law, using the same formality as the original will. Wills cannot be changed by simply crossing out existing language or adding new provisions, because those changes do not comply with the formal requirements of will execution.
How can I leave specific items to particular people?
To avoid frequent changes to your will as property is acquired, a will can specify that personal property (property other than money, real estate, and assets that are titled to you) is to be distributed in accordance with instructions provided in a separate document. A personal property instruction sheet should be kept with the will to which it relates, and should describe each item in detail to avoid later confusion or hard feelings.
How often should I update my will?
Wills should be reviewed at least every two years as changes in probate and tax laws may change the effectiveness of certain provisions and some underlying assumptions. In addition, you should update your will whenever a major life change occurs such as births, deaths, marriages or divorces, and major changes in your property/assets. Because state law governs wills, if you move to another state, you should have your will reviewed for compliance with the new state’s laws.
What should I do with my will now that I have one?
Let your family and friends know that you have made a will and where you plan on keeping it. Keep your will where you keep your other important documents such as a safe or a fire box where it is accessible to the person you have nominated to act as your personal representative. If you choose to store your will in a bank safe deposit box, you will want to make sure that the person you have nominated to act has access to the box if you become incapacitated. It may be a good idea to give your personal representative a copy of your will also.