What is a Last Will?
A last will (often referred to as a will or last will and testament) is a legal document that dictates how a person’s assets will be distributed. A person must be at least eighteen years of age in order to create a will, and the will must be in writing. The testator (the person who creates the will), must sign the document in the presence of at least two witnesses aged eighteen or older. A handwritten will creates complications and expenses; a typed will is always preferable. Any adjustments, or codicils, to the will must be made in the presence of at least two witnesses, and in the event of significant changes, one should draw up an entirely new will.
A will identifies an executor (the person who will carry out the wishes of the testator), and names any beneficiaries, trustees, and/or guardians. A will can include any special instructions or unique wishes of the testator.
Is a Last Will Necessary?
In the event that a person dies without a will, the assets of that person will be distributed under the state’s laws of intestacy.
Laws of intestacy are not always as clear and simple as one might think; for example, under New Jersey law, a person’s estate will go directly to his or her spouse only under certain conditions. The surviving spouse will not receive the entirety of the estate if the decedent and the spouse had children, if the decedent has a surviving parent, or if the decedent had children from a previous marriage.
In order to ensure that one’s assets go exactly where one wants them to go (to whom you want, when you want, and how you want), one must draw up a will. A will can help speed up the process of transferring assets and prevent tax burdens, and does the important business of naming an executor and, even more significantly, guardians for one’s children. This preparation can ultimately assist in removing pain and stress from loved ones during an emotional time.
Don’t Do-It-Yourself: Call Byrnes, O’Hern & Heugle
Some may be tempted to save money by creating a will with the help of a website or computer software. This is not the safest way to create a will, because most softwares and sites are not created with the specifications of different states’ laws and cannot take into account an individual’s personal and family circumstances. Furthermore, the general language used by most of these softwares and websites may or may not be valid.
State laws can change. It is important to have an attorney review one’s will every three years to make sure that it is up-to-date.
Professional guidance from knowledgeable experts like our attorneys at Byrnes, O’Hern & Heugle will ensure that your will reflects your wishes and complies with current laws.
Contact us to begin the process of protecting your assets and easing your family’s burden.