Even if you don’t believe in the afterlife, you need to take control of what will happen after life. Your life. For your family’s sake. Without a valid, comprehensive living will (a legal document that specifies what you want to happen to your assets after you die), your family will be left to pick up the pieces.
You should be aware of two definitions about your last will and testament in order to protect your assets and make things easier for your family. These definitions involve the difference between testate and intestate. The difference is simple, but it can determine whether or not your wishes are carried out.
Definition 1: testate – Having a valid will made before one dies. “She died testate.”
Definition 2: intestate – Not having a valid will made before one dies. “He died intestate.”
Translation: If you have a valid will, you are said to die testate. If you die or become incapacitated without a valid will, you are said to die intestate.
It’s also important to understand what makes a will valid and legally binding. Let’s look at the key components of a living will.
A valid will must provide instructions stating:
- whom you want to receive something,
- what you want that person to receive and
- when he or she will receive it.
A valid will must be in writing and must be signed by the testator (the person making the will) or in the testator’s name by some person in the testator’s conscious presence, and by the testator’s direction.
To define this more simply, your will must be in writing. You must sign it. If you’re not able to sign it (if you become paralyzed or otherwise incapacitated), someone else may sign for you under your direction. Most wills are notarized and include a self-proving affidavit. While this extra step isn’t strictly necessary, it does help expedite the process.
A valid living will is important for every family. It helps make the complex process of settling an estate much simpler.
Now that we’ve given you the basics of a valid will, you should be aware of what not to do with it. Here are three common mistakes people make when it comes to a last will and testament:
- Putting the will in a bank safety deposit box. Unless you have specifically given someone the authority to open the safe, you will have to have a probate to determine who has authority to open the deposit box. This can create an unnecessary sticky situation.
- Not giving a copy of the will to your children or other involved parties who will be handling the estate after your death. If your will is stuffed between the mattress or hidden in the back of your sock drawer, your family may not be able to locate it. Without a copy of the will, your estate will be subject to probate.
- Not being specific about who will be in charge of the estate in blended family situations. This is one of the most common causes of confusion and disagreement.
Take the time to create a valid will and give instructions. This will give you and your family peace of mind both now and later. It may be uncomfortable for you to plan your estate, but it’s far better to do it correctly now than for your family to pay an attorney to try to fix later.
Do you have any questions about testate or intestate? I’d love to help. Please leave a comment below or contact our office.