The will is probably one of the most important documents any of us will ever consider. It is the only way that anyone will know our last wishes for burial and division of our assets. Now there are even “living Wills” that can determine our wishes if we become incapacitated by injury or illness. This can make decisions easier for our family when it comes to termination of our life in questionable circumstances. The will is the last voice we will ever have. It is also one of the best gifts we can leave to those we loved in this life.
No one should learn why you should have made a legal will. Any of us are subject at any moment to death or becoming incapacitated because of an accident or illness. If you do not have a legal will, you could leave your loved ones with frozen assets, excessive estate taxes, intestate (death with no will), probate fees, and possibly years of legal fees due to battles to sort out who gets what. In the end the only winner will be the lawyers. While sometimes this is the end result anyway, having a legal will can make life for those left much easier.
Dealing with the agony of someone’s death is bad enough, but to have to face the hassles associated with an intestate death can be extremely stressful. A spouse may have to pay unnecessary estate taxes and legal expenses, which can be devastating to their future. It can even halt business operations and income if there is no one appointed to keep things going until the probate court can appoint someone. If there are small children who need to be cared for and no one is appointed as a Guardian, they can be left in the hands of the state and wind up in a foster home.
You may have put off making a will because you think that you must have a lawyer and lots of expense to have one prepared, but that is not true. There are many alternate options to that these days. There are inexpensive do-it-yourself kits and programs available at computer and office supply outlets. Or if you are computer savvy, you can find online preparation sites, or get a “statutory will” form printed in the state statute for use by its citizens, probably from your Probate Court. Also, in this day and age, you can get a paralegal to do your will for you and avoid high expense. Just make sure that whoever does it has a good reputation for accuracy and knows the laws of the state.
Most states no longer allow holographic (handwritten) or Nuncupative (oral) wills, although there are exceptions. If you do decide to write your wishes down, make sure that you start with a blank piece of paper and write everything in your own hand; printed letterhead or someone writing for you are invalid. If you choose to do an oral will, use video tape and have witnesses for it will help to prove your testamentary capacity. If this is your choice, check with the Probate Court in your state and find out what is allowed.
Once you know what kind of will you can make, then you need to find out the proper execution and clauses needed to make it as legal and as UN-protestable as possible. Even when you have done everything as legally as you can , problems can still arise. Anyone can put in a protest as to the validity of a will for mental capacity, undue influence, omitted children, or even a discrepancy in the date it was signed and witnessed. So before putting the will away for the future, make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed. Once completed and properly attested to, put it somewhere safe, but not where it can’t be accessed at your death, like a safe deposit box that would require an order of the court to open. Legal or not it is useless there.
If you have done your homework and everything else goes well, you have taken care of one of the most important decisions of your life. But don’t stop there! Make sure that as life situations change, you keep your wishes up to date so that you don’t leave everything you have to the Ex you hate instead of the one who took care of you to the end. Also, don’t fail to include your newest child in the mix or mention by name the one you wanted to leave out, because whatever you have in that legal will is what the courts will require to be done.