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What is a will?

Wills are legal documents which have a long history - not as long as the trust’s history - but long enough. You absolutely need a will to:

Appoint an executor or personal representative

2. Appoint guardians for any minor children

3. Distribute assets titled in your individual name or payable to your estate

If you don’t have a will, the court will decide who settles your estate and raises your children and state law determines who gets your assets - and it may not be who you think. Most people want to make those decisions themselves; don’t you?

When is my will effective?

Your will is only effective at your death. It has absolutely no power during your lifetime.

When is my will filed at the courthouse?

Your will should be filed at the courthouse soon after you die. No need to file anywhere before that time.

Does my will control all of my assets?

Your will only controls assets in your individual name or made payable to your estate. For example, if you own a bank account or house only in your name, it will pass by the terms of your will. However, if you own that same bank account or house in joint names with a spouse or someone else, your will will not control those assets. Another example: if your estate is named as the beneficiary of your retirement plan or life insurance, then your will will control those assets. But, if you named an individual as the beneficiary on the policy, the will will not control them.

What's the difference between a living will and a will?

These two documents, the living will and will, sound similar but they are very different in purpose. First, we’ll describe the living will; then, the will.

The living will states that you don’t want medical heroics to be kept alive if you are in an irreversible coma or vegetative state, but that you want to be kept as comfortable as possible. The living will is effective during your lifetime and is considered an advanced medical directive because you’re making a medical decision in advance. Your health care agent, named in your health care power of attorney, must respect your advanced medical directives including your living will.

The will does three things and is only effective after your death. Your will:

1. Appoints an executor or personal representative

2. Appoints guardians for any minor children

3. Distributes assets in your individual name or payable to your estate

How do I ensure that there isn't a will contest?

We’ll need to change the question to “How can I best ensure there isn’t a will contest?” because we live in a litigious society and anyone can sue anyone for anything. But, don’t be discouraged. There’s a lot you can do to reduce the likelihood of a will contest. For example, don’t put your estate plan in a will which is a public document; instead, use a trust which is private so no one, but for named beneficiaries, will know what’s in your plan. Also, never use your estate plan to be mean. For example, don’t leave $1 to the sibling or child you don’t like. In addition, if you wish to disinherit a loved one who would normally inherit from you, state your wishes outright; don’t just leave him out of your plan. Lastly, if you have a blended family or anything other than an Ozzie and Harriet life, then let your loved ones know your plans ahead of time. Prepare and protect all those you love and let them know you’ve done so.

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