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What is a Will?

A will is an essential part of your estate plan. Learn about what you should include in yours.

A will is the cornerstone of an estate plan and outlines who should receive assets, nominates a guardian for minor children, and names an executor to carry out your wishes.

Types of wills

Since a will is a legal document, there are general rules that must be followed. While written wills are preferred, an oral will may be considered valid if certain requirements are met. In most cases, you will need two witnesses who may be called upon if a will is contested in court.

  • Written wills
    are most common.

  • Oral wills (nuncupative)
    are spoken and may not be permitted in some states.

  • Holographic wills
    are handwritten and if allowed under state law, may have specific requirements.

Considerations for your will

Once a will is written, it can be changed or updated. A will does not become effective until death; at which point it cannot be changed. Therefore, it is important to act while you are able.

Some things to consider when writing your will include:

  • If you have children, who should be the guardian and if money is involved, who should be the conservator who acts for the children’s benefit?
  • If you own pets, what should happen to them?
  • Who should act as executor to administer your estate? You may also want to list an alternate in the event that person is unable or unwilling to act.

Requirements for a will

Mental competence and age are two key points for a will to be valid. When a will is executed, you must be of sound mind and the age of majority (age 18 in most states). Additionally, most states require one or more witnesses (who are not related to you and do not have an interest or inheritance from your estate) to sign and attest to your mental state.

During probate, the will is submitted to the court for formal validation and the executor is confirmed. Wills can be challenged during the probate process. Challenges may arise if wills are improperly executed or witnessed, if mental competency is questioned, or if mistakes are alleged such as excluding a child from inheritance or disinheriting a spouse. Proper execution and witnessing are critical for a valid will and can help avoid challenges. Be sure to seek guidance if you are unsure of the requirements in your state.

Key Takeaway: A properly executed will is an essential piece of an estate plan that outlines plans for your assets, nominates a guardian for children, and names an executor to carry out your wishes.