What Is a Testator?
What to know about writing your last will and testament
Writing a will can feel overwhelming, but taking the step before it is necessary can protect your interests, provide for your family, and ensure peace of mind for you and your loved ones. There are many different types of wills and ways to approach the process of writing a last will and testament, but there are a few common things you’ll want to keep in mind as you begin the process.
Why Do I Need a Will?
You might be wondering if producing a will is necessary for you. The truth is, every adult should have a will. Wills are not exclusive to those with wealth or property. They are a way to ensure that the appropriate parties make decisions for your estate as it exists, that your property is properly distributed, and that your wishes are honored.
Without a will, you run the risk of putting undue burdens on loved ones and removing the protections that allow your possessions to pass down to the right people. The good news is that writing your will doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Getting started is easy, and you’ll have lots of support and resources available as you continue along the process.
What Is a Testator?
While the term is not commonly used in conversation, a testator is the official word for the person writing the will. The will does not take effect until the testator passes away, at which point the will is read, and the estate is distributed accordingly.
While the legal requirements can vary, a few essential factors are required to make a will legal. These are designed to protect you, the testator, and the interests of your friends and loved ones in the event the will is needed.
Mental Soundness. One of the reasons to develop a will before it is necessary is to ensure you are writing the will with full mental soundness. This is designed to protect you as the testator from being taken advantage of. If you are over eighteen years old, conscious, and have adequate self and situational awareness, that will allow you to create a legal will.
Signatures. Beyond the testator, the type of signatures required for a legal will vary depending on location. For the most part, at least two witnesses over the age of eighteen are required to render the will legal. Some places will require more, and in some locations, the witnesses cannot also be the executors of the will to avoid conflicts of interest.
Formatting and Language. Because a will is such an important document, it’s essential to perfect the formatting and language. For this reason, formats and professionals exist that will help you to develop and clarify the language in your will. Improper wording can negate the value or even the legality of a will, so it’s worth it to take the extra time and speak with experts so you know that your wishes and your loved ones are protected.
Can I Write My Own Will?
The short answer is that yes, in most jurisdictions, it’s perfectly legal to write your own will. However, you will want to do your research to be certain that the rule applies where you live. That said, writing a will, particularly an involved will, can be complicated. Here are a few things to consider if you are deciding whether to write your own will or hire a lawyer to help.
How Complicated Are Your Bequeathments? If you are planning to leave all of your belongings to one person, like a legal romantic partner, then your will is relatively straight-forward. If you have stepchildren, a blended family, or several beneficiaries, it can become more complex. Consider the scope of your estate before deciding how to move forward.
How Much of Your Estate is Abroad? If you own property outside of the country or have foreign investments or bank accounts, it can make your estate much more complicated. In addition to domestic legalities, your will must also navigate foreign laws. A lawyer can make this process much smoother.
Are You Leaving Businesses? If you’re planning to leave a business or part of a business to a person or people, you will want to consider hiring a lawyer to help. The process of bequeathing businesses can be complex. When you have a professional’s support, it can ensure that the proper parties receive the business bequeathment without question.
What Goes Into My Will?
Now that you have decided to move forward with preparing your will, you need to decide what goes into the will. These decisions are designed to protect you and your loved ones, provide for your family after you have passed, and ensure that family heirlooms and sentimental items are passed onto the appropriate people. Here are some of the things you will want to include in your will.
Who Is Your Executor? The executor of your will is the person who will ensure that the end of life wishes you set forth are brought to fruition. Many times, the executor is a bank or an attorney, who will take a small percentage of your estate. If you ask a friend or relative to be executor, consider compensation, as the process is challenging and time-consuming.
Who Are Your Beneficiaries? Your beneficiaries are the people who will be receiving money, property, or belongings, as stipulated in your will. These people are usually partners or grown children, but it’s important to write down who your beneficiaries are in order to protect their interests and your own.
What Are They Getting? Wills can be cause for tension. In addition to the emotional burden of managing grief and loss, individuals will have to navigate a sense of fair distribution of the estate and sentimental belongings.
Having conversations about what the individuals in your family are most interested in receiving can help to mitigate some of these pressures. Speak with your beneficiaries about items that may have personal value or financial value and give them the chance to make their requests throughout the process. While there may never be a completely fair distribution of belongings, this can help to reduce a sense of inequity.
You’ll want to be specific about who receives what. If you hope that your partner will leave your money to your children, write that down in the will. Especially if you have a blended family with children and stepchildren, making your exact wishes clear is essential to ensuring your loved ones are protected.
Who Will Become Guardian? It can be very challenging for parents to consider who will care for their children in the event of their passing, but it’s also an important decision to make. When making your will, you will want to provide information on who will take guardianship or custody over your legal dependents if you are no longer able.
When it comes to deciding who that person is, there are a few things you will want to consider. Will the person have both the emotional and physical capacity to take on the care of a child? Do they have the financial and personal resources, including time, medical needs, and space, to care for children? Most importantly, are they willing to love and care for a child to the best of their ability.
When writing your children’s guardian into your will, consider giving backup options. This will help protect your loved ones in the event that your first choice for the guardian is no longer able to step into the role.
What Happens To Your Pets? Taking care of pets isn’t nearly as complex as taking care of children, but you’ll want to make sure that your beloved companions are well-cared for after your passing. Many animals, like exotic birds, well out-live their owners, so it’s essential to make plans for who will care for them.
You can decide upon a pet guardian who will take over the care of your animal. You may also intend to send your pet to a specific organization or conservation center, depending on what kind of animal it is. Make certain your best wishes for the animal are put into writing.
It can be emotionally challenging to write a will. In addition to the myriad feelings associated with the process, it can require difficult conversations with friends and loved ones about personal belongings, children, and pets.
But wills are also extremely important. With a will, you know your loved ones are protected, your estate is being distributed to the right people, and that your children and pets are in new homes with people who love them.
You can begin by exploring templates for wills on your own or by speaking with an estate planning professional. With a will written and safely stored, you can focus on spending time with friends and family.