Understanding Wills and What They Mean

Traditional wills guide the proper transfer of assets to beneficiaries after death. The creator of the will, called a testator, writes a will to document how the estate—the accumulated property and possessions—are to be distributed to beneficiaries. An executor, also called a Personal Representative oversees that the directions of the will are carried out. 

Understanding How a Will is Created

State laws regulate how wills are designed; certain requirements must be met when the will is created. Each state varies in how the law is applied, so check your state’s requirements before you prepare the will. As a general rule, the testator must be at least 18 years old and possess the physical and mental capacity to write a will. The creator of the will and several witnesses must sign the formal document. It’s best to create a will when the person is in good health, before tragedy strikes.

The Meaning of a Will

If you have children and you and your spouse die, a prepared will names the guardian of your choice; if there is no will, a court will appoint one for you. If you die without a will in place, the court can distribute your estate based on a fixed formula. A properly created will may reduce, even eliminate, the inheritance and death taxes that have to be paid.  Hiring a skilled attorney to prepare your will for potential tax problems can save your beneficiaries time and money. 

A properly drawn will is “good” unless it is revoked. If circumstances change, whether it is marriage, birth, death of a beneficiary or someone named in your will, or significant increase or decrease in the value of the estate, be sure to seek the counsel of a skilled attorney. All changes require a careful analysis. Most professionals advise that people review their wills every two to five years to ensure that the will conforms to your current situation.