Draft a Will (You Can't Take it With You)

A Last Will and Testament is one of the most important legal documents a person can create during his or her lifetime.  If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed.

If a person dies without a Will the beneficiaries can not dispute the court’s distribution of that person’s estate under the intestacy laws. Even if that person expressed different wishes verbally during their lifetime the statutes control the distribution.  With a valid Will, a person can legally determine how their property will be distributed… and to whom. 

A Will must meet the legal requirements set forth by the state in order for it to be valid.  Most states will also accept a Will that was executed in another state if the document is a valid Will under that state’s law.  The general requirements for a valid Will are usually as follows:  (a) the document must be written (meaning typed or printed), (b) signed by the person making the Will (usually called the “testator” or “testatrix”, and (c) signed by two witnesses who were present to witness the execution of the document by the maker and who also witnessed each other sign the document.

If a Will’s authenticity is unchallenged it may be probated in a simplified procedure if it has been self-proven.  Witnesses to a self-proven Will are not required to testify in court because the court automatically accepts a self-proven Will as authentic.  To self-prove a Will the testator and the witnesses must affirm to the authenticity of the Will in an affidavit before a notary and have the notary stamp the affidavit.

Hopefully these guidelines have helped make your estate planning decisions easier.  For information regarding your specific circumstances you should always contact an attorney in your area.

What if I Die Wthout Any Family?

If you die without any family (heirs) and without a will then your estate “escheats” to the state.  What this means is that the state you live in would receive your property.  However, if you have a valid will you could leave your property to anyone or anything of your choosing (with some limitations)

In my Will, Do I Have to Leave Property To Every Child?

No, you can “disinherit” any person you chose.  However, the only way to disinherit someone is through the use of a will.  It is also a good idea to specifically state why you are disinheriting that person to avoid confusion later.

How to Obtain a Death Ceritifcate

When you are helping to wrap up the affairs of the deceased, you will probably need a death certificate to get access to bank accounts, safety deposit boxes and insurance proceeds.  It is usually fairly easy to obtain a death certificate either by mail or online. 

You should look to the county health department in the county where the person died.  Usually to obtain a certified death certificate will cost between 4 and 15 dollars.  However, more states are allowing the ordering of death certificates through county or state websites. 

Regardless of the method used to request a death certificate you will usually be required to include the full name of the deceased as well as the date of death and the city and county of death.  Some states may require a social security number or place of birth as well.   

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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