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The basics of a Will – Authored by: Anisha D. Rutkowski

 

The most commonly heard of estate planning instrument is undoubtedly the “Will.”  From a legal perspective, the individual making a Will is referred to as the “testator.”  Generally, the testator’s goal in making a Will is to create a plan for how his or her assets will be distributed upon death, i.e. who gets what.

The requirements for a valid Formal Will vary from state to state.  In Michigan, a testator must be 18 years of age to make a valid Will.  Additionally, the Will must be a written document, not oral, and the document must be signed by a minimum of two witnesses.

So what happens if you do not have a Will when you pass away?  In short, the laws of the state in which you reside will determine how your assets are distributed and how your estate is settled.  This process is called “intestate succession.”

A Will allows you to largely avoid intestate succession and instead provide detailed instructions for the distribution of your finances, real estate, and personal property upon your death.  You may also use a Will to appoint an individual who will be in charge of your property until it is distributed.  This individual is known as the “personal representative.”  And perhaps most importantly, a Will may be used to appoint guardians for minor children.

The clear advantage of having a Will is that you are able to make those decisions about how your estate is taken care of when you are gone.  A Will does not, however, allow you to manage assets during your lifetime or bypass probate after your death.  Such goals may be accomplished with a “Trust,” which we will discuss in more detail in later posts.

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