A will does not have to be an expensive document. In about half of the states, you can direct the handling of your estate through a handwritten -- or holographic -- will, so long as it is in your handwriting in its entirety. However, to make sure everything goes the way you want after your death, it's a good idea to put your last wishes in a formal document, and it's imperative that you meet the requirements for a will in your home state. State laws for making valid wills vary. Rely on your attorney to answer specific questions about your will drafting and estate planning decisions.
Check Out Available Resources
Your will is intended to guide the handling of your responsibilities and assets after you die. Using the proper legal terms and including all your wishes will help your family and the court get it right. If you don't want to use a lawyer, will kits and books on writing wills can help. Some states even have fill-in-the-blank forms included in their laws. Online resources, such as estate planning software and will drafting services, can take you through the steps one at a time. Make sure you have chosen a resource that is specific to your state. If you are writing your will by yourself, research state laws online or at a library.
It's a Formal Affair
Your will is a formal document and you should approach it as such. Begin your will by clearly stating that this is your Last Will and Testament. State your legal name and that you are of sound mind. If you have ever written a will before, state that you are revoking it. Provide the names of your spouse, siblings and children. When the time arrives for signing your will, sign and date it in the presence of two witnesses, who are not relatives or beneficiaries. Adding a self-proving statement or affidavit can make your will easier to probate. Self-proving statements have your witnesses swear they saw you sign the will and that you were of sound mind. Usually, they won't have to provide any in-court testimony if they execute a self-proving statement.
Take Care of Your Responsibilities
Generally, before wills address the distribution of property, they direct payment of debts. Most states have requirements for this, but they vary. Debts, taxes and funeral expenses are commonly included. If you have minor children, name responsible individuals, generally referred to as guardians and conservators, to manage their personal care and assets after your death. You can also provide for pets by leaving money to a human heir and directing its use for pet care.
Give It All Away
You can distribute your property as you wish for the most part. In many states, a spouse has a right to claim a certain share -- even if you intentionally leave her out of your will. Beyond that, you can be as general or specific as you like. You can say that your wife and child should divide your estate. You can name specific items in your will, or you can refer to a list of personal items and who should receive them. Next, include a residuary clause, which determines where any omitted property should go or what should happen if one of your beneficiaries dies before you do.
Name an Executor
You must choose someone to carry out your wishes upon your death, such as a relative or a trusted friend. Usually called an executor or personal representative, this person makes sure that everything goes as planned and handles paperwork for the court. Most state laws allow the executor to be paid from the estate, but you can specify a different amount or the executor can waive the fees. You can also waive a bond that the executor is required to pay in many states. Designate a backup for this person if he cannot serve. Finally, state what your executor can do with your assets, such as invest or sell property.
- Nolo: How to Write a Will
- IowaLegalAid.org: Preparing Your Own Will and Other Planning Tools
- Nolo: Holographic Wills
- The Wall Street Journal: The Hard Question Who Will Take Care of Your Child if You Die?
- 2013 South Carolina Code of Laws
- Bankrate, Inc.: Putting Your Pet in Your Will
- South Carolina Probate Lawyer: The Elective Share
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Self-Proving Will
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