Very few are familiar with estate law, even more so the process of drafting, signing, or even contesting a will. Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to drafting wills than distributing the personal property of a deceased loved one.
Why draft a will?
You likely have a loved one who decided to make a will early on. But how important is it? If a person passes away without making a will, the surviving family members (heirs) of the deceased person will likely go through estate administration (or the probate process). Here, legal help is necessary. You wouldn’t want such to happen to your surviving spouse, children, or even grandchildren when you die.
Preparing a will is essentially creating a legal document that becomes crucial after death. As such, it must be according to state law, since estate planning law may differ from state to state. Before proceeding, get legal advice from a competent estate planning lawyer. This will ensure that the will you drafted is not invalid (and will not be contested).
How do you write a will?
Writing a will follow certain formalities and a specific legal process. The number of witnesses (where two witnesses should have actually ‘witnessed’ the testator sign it) is just one of the many statutes factoring into the validity of last wills and testaments. While it is impossible to discuss the entire process of creating a will, this article will focus on what you should generally not include in a last will and testament:
- A property that has a right of survivorship
For properties in a joint tenancy, or tenancy by the entirety, or community properties (particularly those with right survivorship), at the time of death, your share will automatically belong to any surviving co-owners.
- A property that has been placed in a trust
Properties placed in a trust is automatically passed to whoever beneficiary was named in the relevant trust document. Such property cannot be passed through your will. This applies to properties that were put in a revocable living trust.
- Properties for which you have previously named beneficiaries. To avoid probate, take these into account:
- Money that is in a bank account with a pay-on-death arrangement. If necessary, beneficiaries may be changed through the bank or financial institution.
- Property that is held in the beneficiary (transfer-on-death) form. Included here are bonds, stocks, or sometimes even vehicles or real estate. If necessary, beneficiaries may be changed through a new deed, beneficiary form, or title document.
- Benefits of an annuity policy or life insurance for which a beneficiary has been named. If necessary, beneficiaries may be changed through the insurance company.
- Money that is in an individual retirement account, pension plan, or retirement plan. Here, beneficiaries are named on forms given by the administrator of the account.
When you create a will, make sure you are supervised by a good estate planning attorney. Through drafting a will, you can appoint an heir (or heirs) and put into writing who will make decisions about your estate when you die. Estate planning documents must be dealt with very carefully. As such, choose a law firm whose specialization includes wills and estates.
If you have questions on your will or estate plan, call us at James A. Jones Attorney At Law. Our experienced estate planning attorneys are available for a free initial consultation.