While no one is likely to dispute the importance of writing a will, state laws regarding wills do vary slightly. If you live in Georgia, you need to know and follow the laws on writing wills to the letter to be sure that your will is valid.
A will is a legal document in which you specify who inherits your property and assets when you die. In Georgia, you must be 14 years old to make a will and you must have "testamentary intent." This means that you want the document to dispose of your property when you die. Georgia law also requires that you sign the will and that two competent adults witness your signature. You can change your will at any time or revoke it simply by tearing it up and writing another or by drafting a codicil, a written attachment that conforms to the same requirements as the original. If you marry, divorce, have a child or adopt one, you should rewrite your will; if you don't, certain provisions of your will may be altered as a matter of Georgia law.
While you must be sure to draft your will according to Georgia law, you are free to leave your property to anyone you like. The state does not restrict your beneficiary choices. You can direct that your property pass to persons unrelated to you, or even strangers. However, regardless of the terms of your will, if you have a spouse or minor children at the time you die, they are entitled to sufficient property from your estate to support them for one year.
Property Distributed Under a Will
Not all your property will necessarily be distributed under the terms of your will, a fact you should keep in mind when drafting the document. If you have named any beneficiaries on payable-on-death savings, checking or investment accounts, these supersede will provisions. Likewise, life insurance usually passes under a beneficiary designation, as do pension and retirement accounts. Any property you own with another person as joint tenants with the right of survivorship passes to the other person automatically when you die, so would not be governed by your will.
No Will or Invalid Will
If you don't make a will, or if your will is not valid, Georgia's intestate succession laws determine who receives your property. If you leave a spouse and children, they share the estate equally, except that your spouse will receive at least one-third of the total amount. If one of your children predeceases you, that child's share will be divided evenly among her children. If you do not have a spouse or children when you die, your estate goes to your parents, or, if they are already dead, to your siblings in equal shares.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.