With the abundance of legal software and internet resources, more and more people are turning to writing their own wills. This can be a minefield and is often not foolproof, but if you have a fairly straightforward estate and your bequests aren’t complicated, writing your own will is an option. But how do you get started?
The general requirements of writing your own will are:
- you must be of sound mind – meaning you understand the legal significance of what you’re writing and how you’re disposing of your property;
- you must be over eighteen years old; and
- you are not creating the will under duress or undue influence.
In Massachusetts, you are allowed to type your will but in some states you must write the entire document by hand. A valid will must have your signature and date at the end and be signed before two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign your will.
Important Will Provisions
If you chose not to use legal software that automatically generates a will, here are provisions to incorporate into your will.
1. Identify Your Details
You’ll want to list your full name and address, state that this is your last will and testament and that this revokes all of your previous wills. Even if you’ve never made one before, you should include this.
Be sure to state that you are of sound mind and are not making this will under duress.
Some people include their social security number, which is not necessary and often not advisable.
2. Name Your Personal Representative
Next, you’ll want to pick an executor, also known as a personal representative. This is the person who is going to administer your estate by following the directions for distributing the property you name in your will.
Being the personal representative is NOT the same as being a beneficiary. For many people, the personal representative is their spouse or adult child, but you may want to choose someone else.
Be sure to ask them if they’re okay with the responsibility. They may be required to keep detailed records, file documents in court and represent the estate in front of a judge. Let the personal representative know that the law provides for them to be compensated for their services from the estate’s funds.
3. Name Your Children’s Guardian
If you have minor children, you (along with a spouse) should name a guardian for them in the event of your untimely demise. Be sure to ask the guardian if they will accept that responsibility.
4. Divide Your Property (Assets)
You can divide your assets however you see fit. Your assets include everything you own, from personal effects to bank accounts, life insurance, retirement benefits and real property. As long as it’s legal and feasible, your personal representative and the court will follow your wishes.
Be sure to give instructions for all of your assets. This should include a statement that covers everything you own that is not specifically listed. It can be as simple as “Any asset I have not named goes to John Doe.” Otherwise, state intestacy laws will govern your property and it will go to your next of kin or heirs, according to Massachusetts state law. Heirs are not always the same as beneficiaries.
5. Idenytify Your Beneficiaries
Your beneficiaries are the people whom you want to benefit from your estate and the assets you own. You will need to provide their name and contact information, and any other details you think necessary to ensure that your personal representative can fulfill your wishes. If you have family members with the same name, identifying their relationship to you may be useful.
When to Seek Professional Help
An estate planning attorney can review your will or make one for you. This would be recommended for more complex estates or family situations, and when you want to be sure that your will is clear and enforceable. Additionally, an estate lawyer brings the experience of working with the Massachusetts Probate Court and would be familiar with provisions under Massachusetts estate law that describe what can help expedite your will through probate court.
If you would like assistance with your will, the estate planners at Baker Law Group would be pleased to work with you. We offer a complimentary consultation.
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