A last will and testament is a legal instrument that details an individual’s final wishes in regards to how their property and assets are dispersed after their death. The last will is a detailed set of instructions naming beneficiaries to a person’s estate and exactly what property and assets each beneficiary will receive. A last will is unique because it allows the individual to divide up all property and assets and disperse them to a wide variety of beneficiaries that can include:
Last wills are popular because they are relatively easy to create and do not have a stringent set of legal requirements in order to be effective.
The main legal requirements of creating a will is that the individual needs to have the capacity to understand what property they have and the implications of leaving it to someone after their death. This is what is referred to as being of sound mind and having the capacity to fully comprehend the arrangements that they are making.
Other requirements include an actual document that names the property being dispersed and the beneficiaries receiving it. This document must be signed by the individual as well as two witnesses in order to make the will legal. There are specific types of wills that do not require witnesses' signatures, however these types of wills are much more susceptible to challenge by a probate court.
Although no states require that a last will be notarized, a notary public’s attestation to a last will lends an official capacity to the will, which can be beneficial during a probate proceeding.
There are specific advantages to using a last will and testament that enable an individual to make decisions on elements beyond simply dividing property and assets to beneficiaries. A last will also allows an individual to name guardians for their children and the property they receive until they reach maturity and can manage the property themselves. Furthermore, a last will can leave specific instructions on how a pet is to be handled as well as how a person’s debts and taxes will be paid after they die. Although not necessary, many people choose to name an executor to their last will, which is usually a trusted person that they confide in to ensure the detailed instructions of the last will are followed properly.
A last will is an excellent tool for individuals who do not have complex estates consisting of large amounts of property and high-value assets. A last will is not an effective method to disperse assets included in stocks and bonds or insurance policies, or other situations that feature complex financial details. While a last will can be effective in avoiding or reducing the negative aspects and costs of probate, it does not provide an absolute guarantee against certain property and assets winding up in probate court. The only way to completely avoid probate court concerning disbursement of property and assets is to place them in a living trust while the individual is still alive.
Another benefit of a last will and testament is that it can be changed and altered or even revoked should the individual decide to do so. There are many life circumstances that arise in which people need to make changes to how things are handled. A last will is a document that can be revoked by the will maker at their discretion and can be rewritten to make changes to property disbursements as well as beneficiaries.
If these changes that need to be made are not overtly substantial, a codicil of will, which is much like an amendment to a will, can be utilized rather than simply revoking the will and starting over. The codicil of will is ideal for making minor changes in a last will such as altering the executor or recording name changes of beneficiaries.
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