The Basics of a Will

Everyday events are unpredictable. A catastrophic health condition or injury can leave anyone incapacitated. A will can speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Most Americans agree that creating a will is a critical part of having a sound financial plan. Even so, thousands of Americans die every day without a will. That means their estates spend longer in probate, tying up their families in endless red tape.

A will is a relatively simple way to distribute property, reduce the cost and time it takes to settle an estate, put a lid on possible conflicts among heirs, and designate a guardian for any dependents. Everyone with property should make a will, regardless of their age.

Although each state has its own specific conditions and regulations, there are some general requirements for the creation of a will:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must have a clear understanding of what a will is.
  • You must be of sound mind and memory.
  • The will must be signed and dated.
  • You need a certain number of witnesses, which varies by state, to sign the will. They cannot be beneficiaries or close relatives.
  • In some states, the named executor must be a resident of that state.
  • A will is typically a written document, but some states allow oral wills.

Among types of wills:

  • A simple will works if your estate is straightforward and uncomplicated, allowing for allocation of your possessions.
  • A deathbed will is created in an emergency when you are faced with impending death. It’s legal and binding, but chancy and precarious because your mental condition and capacity can be challenged in court.
  • A testamentary trust will sets up trusts for some or all of the assets of your estate. The trust can name heirs or beneficiaries. A will can designate multiple trusts. A trustee is assigned to manage and oversee the execution of the trust, which can be used to provide for the care of a disabled loved one or child.
  • A pour-over will is used with a living trust that you create to transfer control of some or all of your assets to a trustee for administration. When you die, assets not distributed through your last will and testament will collect in the trust for named beneficiaries.
  • A joint will is made by two people and specifies that when one of the creators dies, the survivor will receive all their assets. It also specifies what will happen to the assets upon the death of the second person. It can prevent a surviving spouse from changing the original wishes of the deceased spouse in the event of a remarriage. Individual reciprocal wills allow more flexibility but accomplish the same purpose.

Before visiting a lawyer, here are some steps to consider:

  • List questions you’d like to ask.
  • List important family information: names, addresses and relationships of children and grandchildren and whether they’re in or out of the will.
  • Think about alternate beneficiaries in case primary beneficiaries die before or at the same time you do.
  • Decide on an executor, an alternate, and guardians for any children or dependents.
  • Is there any special property to be bequeathed to a certain beneficiary? Special wishes for tangible items need to be thought about.
  • Estimate the value of your estate. Your lawyer needs to decide whether tax planning will be necessary.

Wills must contain precise wording to ensure that your wishes will be completely followed. A lawyer can provide knowledge of any legal requirements, use knowledge of the law to benefit your heirs, and suggest inclusion, exclusion or provisions. A lawyer can help plan a legally binding, well-written will.

You can count on Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC to provide you with sound guidance and experience in these uncertain times. For assistance with your legal needs, please contact us today at (860) 229-0369, or email us at