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Why Do I Need a Last Will and Testament

At some point in your life, you should consider making a will, especially if you have children and assets to be left to others. A will distributes your property according to your wishes, appoints a guardian for your minor children, and can authorize the sale of real estate without the approval of the court.

Benefits of a Will

While many people think their estates and families will be taken care of after they die without the necessity of a will, here are some features of a will to consider:

  • Distribution of assets according to your intent
  • Appointment of a guardian to take care of your children if no spouse survives
  • Choosing your personal representative rather than appointment by the probate court
  • Orderly transfer of real estate without probate intervention
  • Minimizing estate and gift taxes
  • Inclusion of trusts that specify how assets are to be distributed
  • Avoiding laws of intestacy and court distribution of your assets
  • Avoiding family battles and litigation over your assets
  • Protection of your new family if you are in a second marriage

Without a will, your estate may be divided among your spouse, children, or other relatives pursuant to your state's intestate laws, which can cause problems for your spouse who may not be financially secure.

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Validity of a Will

It is not necessary for you to have an attorney prepare a simple will if you have few assets; otherwise a knowledgeable estates and trusts attorney can be invaluable. Experienced lawyers ensure the validity of your will and structure your estate’s distribution so that its administration is smooth, less costly, not prone to challenges, and minimizes your tax exposure.

Most valid wills require the following features:

  • The maker is at least 18 years of age and of sound mind.
  • The will is typed or completely handwritten.
  • It is signed by the maker at the end of the document.
  • Most wills must be witnessed by two individuals who are not beneficiaries, are present at the signing of the will, and sign their names in the maker's presence.
  • The will must state that it revokes any previous wills or amendments.

A will can set out funeral instructions and direct that you be cremated rather than buried. You can also draft a directive known as a "living will" that provides instructions for others about your wishes regarding life-sustaining procedures or medical treatments if you can no longer make decisions for yourself.