Understanding Wills—Document Your Asset Plans

Standardized Legal Documents Understanding Wills—Document Your Asset Plans

Drawing Up Wills—Document Your Wishes

Estate planning, such as writing your will, helps you prepare for the inevitable and take care of your loved ones once you pass away. Before you start drafting your will, you should get familiar with different will documents to understand which type is the right one for you. We’ll break down all types of wills, answer various questions you may have, and assist you in preparing a well-written will.

A Will Document Explained

A will is a legal document stipulating your wishes regarding property distribution after your death. If you have children, your will can also outline their care by choosing their guardian.

Wills should typically do the following:

  • Appoint an executor to carry out the provisions of your will (e.g., your spouse, relative, or close friend)
  • Name guardians for your children if they’re minors
  • Designate your beneficiaries—people who will inherit your assets
  • Provide instructions regarding the beneficiaries receiving the assets

Why Do I Need a Will?

If you don’t have a will or if it’s deemed invalid, your state can provide one and decide who gets your assets. The state would typically divide your assets between your spouse and children. In this case, your spouse would be entitled to no more than 50% of your estate.

Even if you don’t have many assets or funds, having a will has its benefits, as you would be the only person deciding on the recipients of your assets. You would also be able to choose a caregiver for your child, assign gifts and donations, and plan tax payments.

Types of Will Documents

Wills come in different forms. There are four main types of wills:

Will TypeExplanation

Attested written will

Also called a testamentary will, this is the most common type of will. You should type and print it out and sign it in the presence of two witnesses

Handwritten will

Handwritten or holographic wills are less common as people would usually write them by hand without witnesses in life-threatening situations. This type of will is not always recognized if no witnesses were present to prove the validity of the document

Oral will

An oral or nuncupative will occurs when a dying person speaks their wishes out loud in front of witnesses who will attest to it. Spoken wills are rarely considered valid

Mutual will

Spouses typically draw up mutual wills. Each person has their own mutual will. After one spouse’s death, the will’s terms bind the living spouse

Other less common will types are:

  • Pour-over wills—when you have a trust, a pour-over will stipulates that your assets will transfer to that trust after you pass away
  • Joint wills—a joint will is one document signed by two people, and it is not the same as a mutual will
  • Mirror or reciprocal wills—these wills are almost identical, usually used by spouses

What Should a Will Cover?

Once you identify your assets and choose your executor, beneficiaries, and witnesses, you can start drafting your will. While wills are extremely personal and specific legal documents, we can pinpoint their typical and essential parts that include the following:

  1. Personal information
  2. Declarations—stating you are of legal age and sound mind and that you don’t have any other wills
  3. Marital status, names of your spouse and children
  4. Executor details and powers
  5. Funeral arrangements
  6. Debt and tax payments
  7. Money and personal property disposition
  8. Real estate
  9. Residuary (remaining) assets
  10. Appointment of a guardian in case your children are minors
  11. Simultaneous death of a spouse clause
  12. Signature
  13. Witnesses’ details and their signatures

When Is a Will Valid?

The court makes the final decision about the validity of your will, but there are steps you can take and details you can check to cover all the bases. To make a valid will, you should:

  • Have it in writing (unless it’s a holographic will)
  • Be at least 18 years old and of sound mind
  • Have two adult witnesses—it’s usually required to choose two disinterested witnesses, which means they are not the beneficiaries
  • Sign and date your will in front of your witnesses
  • Have both witnesses sign your will
  • Notarize it if your state requires it

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