A basic will doesn’t have to get fancy or complicated when transferring property to beneficiaries. It may involve leaving everything to your spouse and children; if you’re not married and don’t have kids, you might leave everything to anyone else who is close to you. A basic will may be appropriate if your estate isn’t so vast that you have to worry about planning for estate taxes. As of 2014, the value of your assets must total more than $5.34 million before federal estate taxes are an issue. Maine collects estate taxes depending on the net value of the assets.
Decisions to Make
Before you create your will, identify exactly what property you have to transfer. You don’t have to include assets that pass directly to a named beneficiary, such as retirement accounts or life insurance. These aren’t subject to the probate process and can't be passed in a will. If you have minor children, you’ll need to choose a guardian for them, and decide who you want to manage their inheritances until they come of age. Also choose the person you want to name in your will as personal representative -- that person will manage your estate through probate.
A Statutory Will
Maine recognizes statutory wills, so if your estate isn’t complicated, you can simply pick up a form from any probate court clerk. The form lets you fill in the blanks, directing how you want your property distributed. It asks who you want to receive real estate you own and who should receive your personal property and household goods. You can also elect to make a bequest to charity. You’ll have to decide who you want to receive your residuary estate, any property left over after specific bequests are made. This can be someone you’ve already named to receive specific property or another person. You can use the statutory form to name a guardian for your children, as well as a conservator -- the individual you want to handle their inheritances for them. A space is provided for you to identity your personal representative. You can also list backup executors, conservators and guardians.
Maine accepts holographic wills, those written entirely in your own handwriting. If you’re unable to access a statutory will form for some reason, you can write everything out by hand; these types of wills don’t require witnesses. But it would probably be much easier to simply fill in the blanks on a statutory form so there would be less of a risk that the court won’t be able to decipher your handwriting or intent when the will is submitted for probate.
Witnesses and Signature Requirements
Whether you use the statutory form or create your own document listing your will’s provisions, you must meet Maine’s requirements for witnesses and signatures. The statutory form requires that you put your signature on each paragraph, next to every bequest you make and every nomination for executor, guardian or conservator. You must also sign at the end of the document. Otherwise, if you write your own will, you need only sign it at the end. If you’re physically incapable of signing it yourself, you can have someone else do it at your direction. You’ll need two witnesses to watch you sign or someone else sign for you. If one of the witnesses is a beneficiary under the terms of your will, it won’t invalidate the document.
Whether your will is basic or more complex, Maine requires that it be printed or in handwriting -- the state doesn’t recognize “deathbed” wills -- oral wills spoken to witnesses at the time of your final illness. You must be at least 18 years old and -- as in all states -- you must be of sound mind. It’s always a good idea to take your final draft to a lawyer for review so you’re sure your will conveys what you intend it to and conforms with state requirements.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.