The Simple Will
A will sets forth the manner in which you want your assets to pass to
your heirs. There may be legal restrictions on what you can do in a will
under the laws of your jurisdiction, such as restrictions on disinheriting
a spouse or, in some cases, children. There are also assets that aren't
covered by a will, such as the proceeds of an insurance policy which will
pass to the designated beneficiary named in the policy, certain joint
property, joint bank and brokerage accounts, and retirement plans and
A "testator" is a person who has made a valid will.
A "testamentary will" establishes a trust for some or all of
the assets in the estate.
A "pour over" will places some or all of the assets of the
estate into a trust that is created during your lifetime (an "inter
vivos" trust, or "living trust").
A "holographic will" is written, dated, and signed in the handwriting
of its author. In some states, a holographic will can be probated once
it has been authenticated, even if it isn't witnessed. It is best to have
a will properly witnessed, as your jurisdiction may not accept holographic
wills, and there may otherwise be unnecessary difficulty authenticating
What A Legal Will Can Do
A properly executed will may:
- Provide for heirs who would not be able to inherit based upon the
laws of intestate succession, such as a step-child;
- Provide for contributions to charities, churches, or causes you believe
- Designate a guardian for your minor children, and designate custodians
or conservators to manage their assets;
- Designate an executor, sometimes called a "personal representative",
for your estate, and depending upon the laws of your jurisdiction may
permit you to waive the requirement that the executor post a bond, or
help you avoid court supervision for the distribution of your estate's
- Designate a successor custodian for assets held for children under
the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act, or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
Execution of a Will
Wills are ordinarily signed in the presence of witnesses, and sometimes
in the presence of a notary. In some states, the proper execution of a
will in front of a notary will make the will "self-authenticating",
meaning that it will be accepted by a court without any further proof
of its authenticity.
An estate planning professional can help you figure out which of your
assets and property won't be covered by your will, and help you provide
for those assets to pass in accord with your wishes. A professional can
also help you determine what taxes will be owed by your estate (including
such mundane tax expenses as your last year's income taxes), and what
expenses will be associated with the administration of your estate, to
help you make sure that you don't end up with any unfunded bequests. Please
note that no matter what you put in your will, it will not change the
distribution of assets outside of the probate process. For example, if
you have an insurance policy or annunity which specifies a beneficiary,
that beneficiary will receive the proceeds upon your death even if you
designate a different beneficiary in your will.
Why A Will Makes Sense
It makes sense to execute a will even if you believe all of your assets
will pass to your heirs through other estate planning vehicles, such as
trusts or insurance policies, "just in case". This can be a
"pour over" will, which simply ensures that any assets accidentally
left out of your estate plan are put into a living trust.
For more information on estate planning, please see this associated
- An Introduction to Estate Planning