A will is a legal document that is generally used to describe how you want your estate to be distributed after your death. It might also be used to name an executor for your estate or a guardian for your minor children. It is generally a good practice to name backup beneficiaries, executors, and guardians just in case they are needed. Even though it’s not a legal requirement, a will should generally be drafted by an attorney.
In order to make a will, you must be of legal age (18 in most states). You must also understand what property you own, who the family members or friends it would seem natural to leave property to are, and who gets what under your will. Generally, a will is a written document that must be executed with appropriate formalities. You should sign the document (or direct someone else to sign for you in your presence).
The will should also be signed by at least two witnesses who are of legal age and understand what they are witnessing; some states require three witnesses. The witnesses should not benefit from any provisions in the will. Some states also require that a will be notarized. Some states allow a will that is entirely in your handwriting, known as a “holographic” will. Some states allow a “nuncupative” will, which is an oral will you dictate during your last illness, before witnesses, that is later converted to writing.
Note that certain property is not transferred by a will. For example, property you hold in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety passes to the surviving joint owner(s) at your death. Also, certain property (e.g., life insurance, qualified retirement plans, IRAs, Totten Trust accounts, Payable on Death accounts, Transferable on Death accounts) passes directly to the designated beneficiary at your death, bypassing the probate process. Your will does not take effect until you die. You can create a new will or revoke or amend an existing will up until your death.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.