Complete Guide to a Last Will and Testament

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Everyone has heard the phrase last will and testament or last will. And most of us have a vague idea of what that means. But what does it really mean? Is it really necessary? And finally, is it true that it’s really expensive to make your own? This complete guide to a last will and testament is going answer all these questions. For more details, or specific last will-related questions look further below. But first things first, let’s start with the most basic question.

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that specifies who will inherit your assets after your death. You don’t have to be wealthy or own assets to have a will. It’s useful even if you live alone in an apartment with no children or spouse. A will ensures that people will follow your final wishes. As a result it grants peace of mind for both you and those left behind.

It also allows you to appoint an executor. This person will carry out your wishes according to the terms of the will.

  • A will can be as simple as two pages or more than 50 pages long. This depends on how much information it includes.

  • Wills are not mandatory in any state in the United States. They’re recommended though because they can help reduce stress on survivors when someone dies without one. After all, sometimes people die without leaving any type of instructions for their belongings after death occurs.

Why is a Will Important?

The main reason to have a will is that it gives you control over what happens to your assets after you die. Without a will, state laws determine how your assets are distributed. This also means that the court will decide who raises any minor children.

Also, when creating a will, you can appoint an executor to carry out the terms of your estate plan. This person acts on behalf of the deceased person’s family members during probate proceedings (in court).

How Much does a Will Cost?

The cost of a will varies by state, attorney and complexity. For example, a basic will that doesn’t provide for the distribution of property may only cost $200 or so. However, if you have a large estate or have children with special needs, your attorney’s fees could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

These are just estimates but the average cost of a will is around $300 to $500. This amount includes all costs such as attorney’s fees and court filing fees. However, keep in mind that this might not be all. What happens if you make any changes to your will after you finished drafting it (e.g., marriage or divorce)? In that case there could be additional costs with updating the document again with lawyer fees and probate court filings.

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What’s Included in a Will?

As we discussed above, a will is a legal document. It’s primary function is to state how you want your assets distributed after death.

A will almost always contains:

  • The date of execution (i.e., when the person wrote the document). This lets others know when it was originally written. That’s particularly useful in case there are any questions about who wrote it or if someone else made changes.

  • The executor’s name—that is, who is responsible for carrying out the wishes laid out in the will (see below).

  • Specific instructions regarding how to distribute property including real estate, vehicles/boats/planes, jewelry, art collections etc.

Executor of the Will

An executor is the person who will carry out your wishes after you pass away. They must be of sound mind and trustworthy, reliable. In most cases they need to be able to read and write well. Although that’s not a legal requirement, it’s good if the executor is able to manage money. The executor should understand your overall goals for finalizing this document. They will also need to comprehend what specific tasks they will need to complete.

You can also appoint multiple co-executors. This refers to two or more people who will work together on behalf of your estate.

Beneficiaries and Heirs

Beneficiaries and heirs are often different terms for the same people. A beneficiary is someone who receives property when you die. An heir is someone who inherits the portion of your estate that you leave to them. Sometimes beneficiaries and heirs are the same, but not always:

  • If a person has no will, then their spouse or children will inherit their property (assuming they have any). In case there is no spouse or child, then other family members such as parents and siblings may inherit it.

  • If a person has a spouse but also has parents who are still alive, it’s possible that only one parent could inherit. This only takes place under certain circumstances, such as if both parents agree.

Guardianship of Minor Children and Pets

If you have minor children, it’s important to name a guardian. If you don’t, the court will decide who gets to raise your children after your death or incapacitation. This can be a very stressful and confusing time for any family. Your last wishes should then not be left up to chance!

If you have pets, consider naming someone as the pet’s guardian. Even without kids, your loss can be heartbreaking for your beloved pet. Especially if you die and they are alone with no one there to comfort them (or take care of them).

While this is more practical than sentimental advice, it’s still worth considering the following: what would happen if both you and your spouse pass away at once because of an accident or illness. You should discuss with them this possibility before writing anything down on paper.

A will is necessary for every person

Simply put, a will is necessary for every person. A will allows you to decide who gets what when you die, which can be a major concern in an estate plan. It may also help avoid conflict among family members as they are forced to sort out everything after your death.

You can make these all will-related decisions yourself. Alternatively, you can seek the help of an estate attorney who specializes in estate planning. In that case you should be prepared to pay more for their services.

Read more

The topic of last wills can be confusing and it includes many details. Writing one also often requires that you are familiar with many legal terms. But don’t worry, we have plenty of resources for you. Have a look at the list below (last update: 08/29/22):

  1. Codicils VS Last Will
  2. Last Wills for the terminally ill
  3. E-will VS Last Will: What is the difference?
  4. What does the Executor of a Will do?
  5. What does Next of Kin Mean?

Final Thoughts

We hope that you found our complete guide to a last will and testament useful. In conclusion, a will is an essential part of your estate plan. It’s important to have one in place, but it can be intimidating to think about making one. With this guide and some good research, you’ll have no problem creating the right will for your needs.

And now with Myend, making our will has never been easier – or cheaper! Our approach is dynamic, interactive and comprehensive. Curious to read more on that? Have a look here. Or maybe you’re ready to try it out for free today? Then sign up here and see for yourself!

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Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.