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A will is a legally binding document that details how a person wants their possessions (money, real estate, personal belongings, and any other tangible assets) to be distributed after their death.

With a properly-executed will in place all solely-owned property can and will be distributed as per the wishes of the decedent. Should someone die without a will, the laws of the state in which the decedent passed will determine how the assets of the estate will be distributed and to whom (state laws vary greatly and so one cannot presume that if they die without a will…in testate…they're possessions will automatically fall to their surviving spouse and/or children.)

A will isn't necessary to distribute jointly-owned assets—such as a house owned by spouses, for example—as in most cases that property automatically becomes wholly owned by the survivor upon the passing of the decedent.

A will can also serve to name guardians for minor children (those who will take care of the children as well as safeguard any inheritance until those children reach their legal majority).

Does One Need a Will?

In most cases, even if there isn't a great deal to be left behind, having a will is a good idea as it will ensure that your possessions and assets go to those that you outline in the will. It also helps to eliminate strife amongst the survivors by clearing spelling out the deceased's wishes.

A will, will not only direct your assets to those whom you wish to inherit them, but it will also make sure that your estate is managed and distributed by someone of your choosing—someone you can trust to execute your last wishes fully and properly.

Types of Wills

There is no specific format of a valid will. As long as the court finds that wishes of the individual making the will are clearly set forth, exact language requirements are not specified. As long as the testator (the person making the will) is aware of what their possessions are and whom they are bequeathing those possessions to, and the will is properly witnessed (in most states by two witnesses), it will most often be valid.

Though one could make a will without help, it is probably best to consult with a qualified estate attorney in order to make sure that you fully comply with the laws and thus avoid having the will challenged when it is put into effect.

Ethical Wills

An ethical will is not really a legal document but rather a way of communicating wishes, blessings, and gratitude to family and friends. It can take the form a letter that is only shared upon death or even an audio or visual recording made by the decedent and played after their death. Ethical wills can be held by attorneys until they are given to, or shared with, the specified friends and family.

By Michael Willis           

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