Simply put, it is a writing that describes who gets your stuff once you pass on.
Now, it is a little more complicated than that because it has to pass through the probate court process. A Will also puts in place age limitations on younger beneficiaries. Often, I hear something like “I want everything to go to my children, but they are only thirteen and fifteen-years-old.” If you are doing a Will, you need to include what is a good age for them to inherit the estate. Most of the time my clients start at thirty-years as being an appropriate age to turn everything over.
Which leads to another important aspect of a will: Until your beneficiaries are of age, who will be the trustee under your Will? Naming people you trust as an executor to take your assets through the probate court process and then as the Trustee is needed to manage the assets until the beneficiaries are of age.
The formalities of a Will.
I often see intelligent people who have tried to do their own Will and mess up on the formalities. Among them are the need for the document to be in writing, signed by them and witnessed by two independent witnesses (and there is a whole statute of what it means to be “independent”). Having the Will notarized is advised to avoid the need to contact the witnesses once you are gone. I’ve seen people who have downloaded a Will or a template online or through a website that will help draft it for you. Rarely does it come out exactly the way you want it to. As I like to say, you may be able to order a scalpel on Amazon.com for 30 bucks, but that doesn’t mean that you want to take out your own appendix.
Wills and probate: together forever.
A big misconception: Having a Will avoids probate. In fact, a Will demands probate. So if you actually want an independent government authority to oversee your estate, account for every penny, make sure that everything is going where you want it to – that’s going to take time and cost you money, but it may be the right choice for you depending on your situation. There are other planning alternatives out there if you have people that you know and trust, and you believe that they are definitely going to do the right thing by your beneficiaries — but as a basic estate tool, everyone should at least have a Will in place.
If you have any questions about a Last Will and Testament or any additional estate planning needs, please contact our office at: (919) 844-7993. We have knowledgeable and caring staff to help you.