If not, you should. A will (also known as a testament) is a legally binding declaration in which the individual, or testator, designates one or more persons or organizations to handle his or her estate and outlines guidelines for the distribution of his or her property in the event of their death. Legal jargon aside, it specifies who will receive the testator’s money and property when they die.
Benefits of Creating a Will
There are several reasons why you should create a last will and testament, some of which are obvious and others not-so-obvious. For starters, having a will ensures that your belongings will be passed down to family members and friends of your choosing. If you have sentimental heirlooms such as war medals, antique wedding rings, photographs, etc., you probably want to keep these in the family. With a will, you can rest assured knowing that these and other items will go to the right people.
When a married husband or wife passes in the U.S., the spouse receives their belongings (unless otherwise stated in the will). If a couple has been living together but failed to get legally married, however, their belongings won’t pass to their spouse. This is why it’s important for unmarried couples to create a will, outlining exactly who gets what in the event of their death.
The bottom line is that everyone should create a will. Regardless of your age, investing the necessary time into creating one will almost certainly prove beneficial in the long run.
Choosing an Executor
The executor of a will is the person or persons responsible for settling the estate of the testator after his or her death. Some of the executor’s duties include taking inventory of testator’s property and estate, appraising and distributing assets, paying any necessary taxes (if applicable), and paying off debts owned by the testator. Think long and hard before choosing an executor for your will, as this individual will have full authority over your estate.
As noted on the USA.gov website, the executor of a will must be at least 18 years of age with no felony convictions on his or her record. “the executor is legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes provided by the will. Here again, it could be helpful to consult an attorney to help with the probate process or offer legal guidance. Any person over the age of 18, who hasn’t been convicted of a felony, can be named executor of a will.”
If you are unsure of whether or not a person whom you wish to name the executor of your will has been convicted of a felony, you may want to conduct a background check. Crossing all of your t’s and dotting all of your i’s is essential to ensuring your will is legal and valid.
Choosing Your Beneficiaries
The beneficiaries of a will are the individuals and/or organizations who will receive the testator’s assets in the event of their death. There are several different categories of beneficiaries, with “primary” being the most important. These typically include the testator’s spouse, children and/or immediate family members. However, you’ll also want to include “secondary” beneficiaries in your will. If someone named as a primary beneficiary dies before the testator does or does not meet the necessary conditions outlined in the will, the testator’s assets will be transferred to the secondary beneficiary.
When naming beneficiaries – both primary and secondary – it’s important that the testator use specific, full names rather than family titles (e.g. niece, nephew, cousin) or nicknames. Some courts may uphold the use of nicknames in wills, but it’s better to cover all of your bases by including specific names as your beneficiaries. Doing so will eliminate the possibility for confusion, ensuring your assets go to the appropriate individuals.
Many people don’t realize that beneficiaries of wills can be added to the testator’s bank account, house deeds, car titles, safety deposit boxes, investments, and other forms of assets. Don’t assume that wills are used strictly for the transfer of physical goods and property, as these intangible assets are just as important.
Do Wills Need To Be Notarized?
You might be wondering if your will needs to be notarized. Many legal documents in the U.S. require notarization as a form of fraud prevention. The notary public verifies the signer’s identify and watches as he or she signs the document; thus, reducing the risk of fraud. So, does a will need to be notarized?
According to the legal website Nolo.com, most states do not require wills to be notarized. Typically, wills must be “executed” to become legal, which involves signing it in front of two witnesses, each of whom must also sign the will while the other is present. There are cases, however, in which a notary public may be required, such as instances in which the state permits wills to be self-proving. This means they can be admitted into a probate court.
There are still some states that require wills to be notarized, so check your respective state’s laws ahead of time to determine whether or not this service is necessary. Even if your state doesn’t require wills to be notarized, you may want to hire a notary public to act as a witness.