What Is a Will?

You can use a last will and testament to appoint an individual as the executor who will oversee the distribution of your property, name beneficiaries, and specify how you want your property divided. You can also use the document to name a legal guardian for your minor children, says Motley Fool’s recent article, “What Is a Last Will and Testament?”

A last will is an estate-planning document that states the way in which you want your property to be distributed when you die.

Probate is the legal process of validating a will and administering the decedent's estate. The decedent’s estate must go through the state’s probate process. But if you die without a will, probate will typically be longer and more complicated. Moreover, the assets will be distributed based on your state’s intestacy law rather than your wishes. That’s why having a last will is important, even if you’re young and healthy. Work with an attorney if you own significant assets or have minor children.

Note that only some types of property can be distributed through a will. Some examples of property you can leave to beneficiaries through a last will include real estate, cash, stocks, bonds, business interests, and real property such as jewelry, cars, and artwork. However, many property types pass through beneficiary designation rather than a will. These include:

  • Retirement accounts (401(k)s and IRAs);
  • Bank accounts designated payable on death;
  • Assets held in a trust;
  • Life insurance proceeds; and

It’s important to note that beneficiary designations supersede the instructions in your last will. So, if you’ve specified in your last will that you want your property to go to your spouse when you die but forgot to remove your ex-spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA, they will receive the money in the account—no matter the instructions in your will.

A last will is an important legal document you shouldn’t create alone. Use the skills and experience of an estate planning attorney who practices in this area.

You can update your will at any time, and it’s always wise to review your last will every few years or whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or a death in the family.

Reference:  Motley Fool (April 5, 2023) “What Is a Last Will and Testament?”

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