Understanding the Basics of Wills in Estate Planning

In estate planning, a set of legal documents are created to ensure that your wishes are carried out during your lifetime and so your loved ones are taken care of when you’re no longer around. One of these documents is a will. What does having a will mean? How do wills work? For you to make the best decisions for your future, it is crucial to understand the basics of wills and what they can accomplish.

The Role of a Will in Estate Planning

Wills are the most well-known document in estate planning. While a will has great importance in the lives of your family and friends, many people opt to use an online document generator, or they try to write their own will. Is this legal and enforceable? It depends on the language of the document and how it is executed.  Most people decide the management and dispersal of their hard-earned property and possessions is something to be handled with the utmost care. 

Understanding the basics of wills is essential for anyone looking to ensure that their assets are passed on to their loved ones after they pass away. The process can seem daunting, but with a little research and the professional advice of an estate planning attorney, anyone can create a will that meets their needs. 

What Is A Will?

A will is a legal document that details who is in charge of your assets when you die and how you would like your assets to be distributed after you die.  For that reason, it is called your “last will and testament.” You may use a will to share your final wishes with your relatives and leave your property, possessions, and money to friends, family members, or charities. You can also use a will to appoint a guardian for your minor children.

What Is A Testator or Testatrix?

The person who decides to create a will regarding their own property and belongings is called the testator or testatrix. Their signature is on the document and must be witnessed. They must also be at least age eighteen, of sound mind and not under any coercion when creating a will.

The Different Types of Wills

There are several different types of wills depending on the needs of the testator. A simple will is as it sounds and gives instructions according to the testator’s wishes regarding their property, possessions, and children.  Wills with contingent trusts are more complex wills that allow individuals to plan for estate taxes or to set up trust provisions for their children in the event a child is below a certain age at the death of the parent.

People will make holographic, or handwritten wills, as a last resort when it’s too late to access an attorney or witnesses. However, the State of Minnesota does not typically view these as enforceable, so they should be avoided. Similarly, oral or spoken wills are general not enforceable.

An estate planning attorney will be able to talk through the various will types to determine which best suits your goals.  They can make suggestions according to your wishes and other estate planning goals. 

The Role of An Attorney in Creating a Will

Do you need an attorney to create a will in Minnesota? Creating a valid will requires that you follow certain formalities prescribed by law. These formalities vary from state to state, but they are strict, and failure to follow them could lead to disastrous consequences. While you do not necessarily need an attorney to create a will, you take the risk of these required legal procedures not taking place, making the will unenforceable. For example, an attorney will remind you of specific requirements for the state of Minnesota, such as the requirement stating that your will must be a physical (not electronic) document. 

Can You Change a Will?

While you are alive, you can change or revoke your will at any time so long as you are mentally competent. Many people go years after creating a will before updating it.  I recommend that people look at their documents annually and then review with their estate planning attorney if there are major changes like marriage or divorce, birth or death of someone important to the plan, a major health diagnosis or every decade.  In planning we do our best to write a will that is functional in the event of life changes, however, an outdated document can leave the will open to interpretation. Ensuring that your will is up-to-date and accurately reflects your wishes is an important part of the process. You may have increased your wealth, had additional children, got divorced, or had other changes in your life that would make the prior versions of your will outdated.

What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

If you die without a will, the State of Minnesota’s intestacy laws determine how to distribute your assets among your heirs and determines who has priority to represent your estate.  The intestacy laws do not provide anything for long term partners, children who are not biologically or legally related to you, and can include beneficiaries you would not want receiving your assets.

H2: Choose the Right Attorney for Your Estate Planning Needs

Estate Planning for yourself and your family is personal. At Stellmach Law, PLLC, estate planning is a process where a lot of questions are asked about you and your family so I can advise you in a way that protects your interests and gives you peace of mind. You are never too young, and it’s never too late to start your estate plan. Contact us today to meet and discuss planning your future.