A Will, also known as a Last Will and Testament, is the document which provides for the distribution of the property we own at the time of death. The Will names the people who are to inherit our possessions, appoints an Executor to administer the Estate and provides for Guardians of minor children and disposition of our remains. Wills frequently provide for the establishment of Trusts for the benefit of minor or incapacitated beneficiaries.
Who should have a Will?
The short answer is "Everyone." You must be eighteen years of age or older to have legal capacity to execute a Will. While it is understandable to think that we should have significant property interests in order to write a Will, the existence of a Will reduces the uncertainty about the distribution of the assets we do have in the event of an accident or sudden death. If you have young children or a child or other family member who is disabled and receives or may receive government benefits, a Will is a critical document. Proper Trust planning in the Will may save the Estate thousand of dollars and will ensure that the persons we wish to benefit will, indeed, receive the fruits of our hard work and planning.
A Will is also critical for people involved in same sex relationships. The Intestate Statute of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the law that distributes property in the event of death without a Will, includes spouses and close relatives, entirely omitting Partners in a committed relationship.
When should you make your Will?
The short answer is "before you die." We all know that we will die someday. It is human nature to think that time is later, not sooner. So, it is important to just get it done. We have counseled many clients who put off making a will because they could not decide who would act as Guardian of minor children or would inherit their assets. Some people fear they will have nothing left when they die and avoid planning. Here is a good rule of thumb. Think about the next five years and how you want your property to pass if you were to die during that time. And remember that Wills can be changed at any time. We often encourage people with doubts about how best to formulate a Will to draft their Wills now as they think best and live with them for a while, see how they feel.
How to Write a Will
A valid Will is a document which states within the writing that this is a Will and contains a disposition of assets. The document has to be dated and signed at the end by the writer. It is usually witnessed by two persons. Very informal documents with the bare basics will be accepted by the Register of Wills as a valid Last Will and Testament. Some people like to find forms on the internet and use those forms for their Wills. In our office, preparation for drafting a Will consists of a conference with the client or clients to assess the extent, nature and value of their Estate, review the family situation and dynamics, and to analyze all Estate, Inheritance and Income Tax issues. We can then determine how best to construct a Will for that particular client. It is recommended that you consult an experienced Estate Planning attorney for assistance in this very important undertaking.