People make use of Wills to give written directives regarding how their estate should be settled when they pass away. Although most people don’t enjoy the task, executing a last will and testament is a very important task that should not be postponed for a rainy day.
Knowing Wills are in place if the unthinkable happens can provide peace of mind. Not only does this legal document ensure relatives are provided for, it also helps expedite the probate process and makes estate settlement easier for personal representatives.
Unless inheritance property has been gifted through assignment of beneficiaries or transferred to a trust, estates have to pass through probate. The Will is used to designate a personal representative responsible for required estate settlement duties.
Individuals can also bequeath property not assigned to beneficiaries within Wills. If inheritance cash or valuable assets are gifted to children under the age of 18, the Will is used to provide direction about how the assets should be managed until children are of legal age. Additionally, Wills are used to arrange for legal guardianship of minor children.
While there are different types of Wills, each has similar elements. Each requires designating an estate agent to settle the estate; beneficiaries to receive inheritance property; and making arrangements for legal guardianship, if necessary.
People sometimes provide directives about funeral services, but it is essential to inform others of these desires. In most cases, Will are not read until after burial takes place so it is not advisable to use this document as a source of reference.
For the most part, lawyers write Wills and file them through the court. However, there are other options for those that want to do this on their own. Some people make use of do-it-yourself Will kits, while others prefer online service providers like Nolo and LegalZoom.
Irrespective of how a person goes about writing a Will, the document must be signed by two witnesses that are unrelated to the Will writer. Witness signatures are performed in the presence of a notary public who is required to sign the document and attach their notary seal.
In order for Wills to be legally binding they need to contain specific terminology. For this reason, it is always a good idea to consult with a lawyer or estate planner. Working with legal professionals is imperative when substantial strife exists amongst relatives.
When there is a high probability for family disputes over inheritance to occur, it might be necessary to insert a no-contest clause within the Will. In essence, this clause forces heirs’ that contest the Will to forfeit any inheritance property gifted to them. It’s a drastic measure, but can minimize risk of having estate assets suspended in probate court while lawyers sort out the issues.
Even more drastic is including a disinheritance clause. Fortunately, most people don’t have to go to this extreme, but there are times when relatives aren’t worthy of estate assets. This kind of situation warrants working with a lawyer.
Last, but not least, Wills should include instruction regarding how to pay off debt obligations. Estate agents need to know if money is set aside and how it can be accessed. If the estate does not have sufficient funds to pay debts the estate agent may need to hire a lawyer to negotiate with creditors.
Probate personal representatives are required to establish a bank account for the estate to record all financial transactions. Accounting records are provided to the court for validation before inheritance property is transferred to heirs.
Wills should be updated anytime major events occur. This could include marriage; divorce; birth, death, and adoption; death of designated estate agents; or buying or selling valuable assets such as real estate.