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August 25, 2018 Beyond The Dash

What is a Will?

Understanding the legality of leaving final wishes

What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that outlines a person's wishes with regard to their funeral, assets and final disposition of their remains. (Shutterstock)

Most people understand the basic concept of preparing a will. Plots involving wills and inheritances inform many popular stories for audiences of all ages. Despite this, most adults don't have legal wills prepared. If you have property that you believe should go specific people in the event of your death, it's important to create a valid final will and testament with clear instructions. 


What is a will?


A will is a legal document that details what you would like to happen to your assets after you pass away. If you have any minor children, your will also details who would care for them. Many people also use their will as a chance to unequivocally state their wishes for their body and funeral after they are gone. 


There are several types of wills, including holographic, oral and living wills. However, the only legal will guaranteed to be recognized in court is a testamentary will. This will is written and signed in the presence of witnesses.


How is a will created?


To start writing a will, write down all of your assets, including money in banks accounts, investments and cash, as well as property assets like real estate, vehicles, and other items of value. List both first and contingent beneficiaries who should inherit each of these assets. 


Next, choose an executor. An executor is the person who will read your will and ensure that your wishes are carried out. Then, head to an attorney's office so they can help you create your will in an appropriate format. Your will must then be signed in the presence of two witnesses.


The more assets, beneficiaries and stipulations you have in your will, the more likely it is that your executor will run up against legal complications in their administration of your wishes. Therefore, it is important to consult a lawyer who is proficient in probate law, and ensure you create a will that is watertight. 


The last will


Locating your will isn't the only challenge your executor will have when administering your estate. As life goes on, you may have cause to create subsequent wills to account for more assets or beneficiaries. Therefore, the legal struggle isn't just whether there is a will, but also which will was the last one legally created. The executor must do their due diligence in locating the most recent will, and executing the instructions of that will faithfully.


Who stores a will?


Because of the importance of being able to locate the final will, it's important that you store your will in a safe location that will be accessible in the event of your death. You should alert your designated executor to the location of your final will and testament. 


You can either store it with a solicitor or somewhere safe in your own home. However, avoid storing it in a bank safety deposit box. The executor will need to probate your estate in order to access your deposit box—which they can't get without the will itself. In short, your will will not be able to be accessed without taking the issue to court.


How often should one update their will?


It is usually only necessary for a will to be updated if there is a major life event. For example, if one of your beneficiaries passes away or you have another child, you will need to alter your will. For most people, creating a will is a one-shot deal. However, changes of situation and changes of heart can be cause for a new final will. 


Are wills really necessary?


If you have assets to disperse, a will is definitely necessary. Those with children should also ensure that a legal will lays out their instructions for guardianship in the event of unexpected death. Wills make everything easier for your family should you pass away because your wishes are clear. There is no ambiguity about who gets what or about what your opinion would be. A will makes everything clear and legal.


After reading this article, you hopefully understand the significance of a will. If you don't have one of your own already, it might be time to start creating a legally binding final will. While it is difficult to conceive of your own death, there is peace of mind in knowing your loved ones and property will be taken care of once you are gone. 

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