Do You Need A Last Will And Testament?

If you don't have a last will and testament, your property and assets will be disposed of as the court sees fit.

A shocking number of people in this country have not prepared a last will and testament. That means if they die without one, the court, and not their family, will decide how to manage their assets and creditors. Wills have been used for hundreds of years in the Western legal system; those of famous folk like William Shakespeare have been widely published because of their glimpses into a celebrity's life and times.

If you have not yet prepared a final will in consultation with an attorney, now is the time to give it some thought. Sit down with your closest family members and discuss the disposition of your final affairs.

1. Find an attorney who specializes in estate administration or simple personal wills. Discuss various types of wills to explore the ramifications of each. For example, some wills indicate that the children of a deceased person equally share proceeds from the estate. Depending on state law, the spouse may be automatically entitled to a certain percentage of the estate, or holdings, at the time of death. Discuss your state's estate and tax laws to learn more about your financial and legal obligations.

2. You will need to name an executor or administrator of your estate. Typically this is the surviving spouse or one of the children. It can be a close friend or other family member, however. This person should agree to act in this role and understand the terms of your will. The executor usually receives a small percentage from the estate in return for this service. At the time a will is made, it will have to be signed by two witnesses, who also will then understand the terms of your estate. Give a copy of your will to the named executor and keep a copy for yourself in a safe deposit box or bank vault.

3. The will lists family members who are entitled to inherit anything from you as well as your assets (actual or expected) to be disposed of. Your funeral arrangements will be spelled out, and all wills indicate that creditors should be paid from the proceeds of the estate before any residual monies are given as bequests.

4. Become familiar with legal terms and current laws. Your attorney can explain these to you, but don't hesitate to ask questions if you are unsure about something. It's better to find out before signing your will than learning about something later that will require a change in the documentation. Pick up a book on legalese language or browse the Internet to learn more about these terms.

5. A will may not be able to spell out everything precisely. Usually it does, but sometimes situations change to invalidate part of the will at the time it is filed with the court. Understand that some things may change over the course of your lifetime. That is why it is so important to choose an executor that you trust to make decisions in your place. As best you can, spell out the terms under which you want to make distributions and bequests so there will be no conflicts over remaining assets.

A last will and testament outlines a person's final disposition of the residual estate at the time of death. Lacking a will, attorneys and courts can only guess at what might be a person's wishes. You can make a will from a simple form that can be purchased at office supply stores or downloaded from the Internet. It may be a good idea to consult your attorney first.

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