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WILLS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Do states or does the federal government regulate wills?

Wills are regulated by the state governments, not the federal government. As a result, what constitutes a valid will in some states means nothing in another. Because there is no national uniform law regarding wills, you need the help of a lawyer, paralegal or at least a will-making computer program when preparing a will of your own.

What is probate?

Any property that is transferred by will is subject to probate, which is the legal process of verifying your will through the courts. Probate can be slow and costly. Thatís why many people choose to create a living trust to convey most of their property to their loved ones. Forming a living trust makes sense for just about everyone, but itís important to realize that it does not prevent probate-it only speeds up the probate process. You still need a will that names an executor for your estate and a guardian for any minor children. All wills must go through probate. Period.

What can be done to cut costs in processing a will?

The processing or "probating" of your will can be expensive. An executor or administrator generally receives a fee for his or her work, which consists of identifying the assets; paying off debts, taxes and administrative costs; and finally, disposing of the remaining assets to the beneficiaries. Usually, an independent executor, such as a lawyer or bank, collects between 2 percent and 5 percent of the estateís value. If you name a family member to be executor, he or she will usually charge far less than an independent one or may refuse to accept a fee out of love for the family. All fees, which can amount to thousands of dollars, are paid by the estate. You can reduce substantially the cost of probating your will by removing assets from your estate before your death. This can be accomplished by giving away your assets as gifts, holding assets in joint tenancy, entering into certain contractual arrangements, such as life insurance or pensions, and setting up trusts. See your lawyer about these and other estate planning tactics.

What is a holographic will?

A holographic will is a will that is written out in your own handwriting. In many states, holographic wills are automatically invalidated. Even in states where holographic wills are considered valid, they are often contested because either the handwriting or the makerís wishes are not clear.

Do I need a will, even though Iím single?

Everyone-single or married-needs a will that explains how they want their assets distributed when they die. A will clarifies what you want done with your investments, personal possessions, even your pets. Even if you donít want to write a will for your own peace of mind, do it for your heirs. The document will save them lots of time, legal and court expenses.

Should I have a will if I donít have children?

Everyone should have a will, including you and your spouse. Believing that everything the two of you own will pass automatically to the surviving spouse when one of you dies is a risky proposition. Suppose that you and your spouse bought a house or opened a brokerage account as joint tenants several years ago, but the lender or brokerage firm fouled up and mistakenly listed you as tenants-in-common. If you died before the mistake was discovered, your interest in the property would not automatically pass to your spouse. Instead, it would likely become the subject of lengthy probate proceedings and your creditors could ask that the property be liquidated to pay any debts that you left behind. Or, suppose you were killed in an auto accident and the other driverís insurance company issued a big check to your estate. If you died without a will, the cash would be distributed according to the stateís inheritance laws instead of going directly to your widow. Those same inheritance laws would kick in if you and your spouse died at the same time in a car crash or other accident, which means your combined assets might pass to relatives you donít even like.

What happens if you donít have a will?

Everyone has a will. If you donít write your own, you get the universal will that your state has written for you. All your nearest relatives get a piece of your property, but no one else does-and no one gets more than the state-allotted share, even if itís unfair. Spouses usually suffer the most. According to Jane Bryant Quinn, author of "Making the Most of Your Money" (Prentice Hall), depending on state law, not all of the property may go to your spouse. Your grown children may get some of the money you meant for your spouse, leaving your spouse with too little to live on. A court will choose your childrenís guardian. Stepchildren usually get nothing. Your family might battle with the courts. A fight might break out among your relatives over who gets the children and who runs the inheritance. Whether you do it yourself or with the help of financial advisers, writing a will is key to ensuring that the people you want to leave your property to, get it.

What must be in a will?

Certain elements usually must be present for a will to be valid. You must be of legal age to make a will (this is 18 in most states). You must be of sound mind and memory, which means that you should know youíre executing a will, know the general nature and extent of your property and what the will accomplishes. The will must have a provision that disposes of your property and it must indicate you really intend it to be a will. The will must be voluntarily signed by you (or someone you direct in case of incapacity or illiteracy). Although oral wills are permitted in limited circumstances in some states, wills must usually be written and witnessed. To be safe, donít hand write a will if you can avoid it. A will must be properly executed, which means that it contains a statement at the end attesting that it is your will, the date and place of signing, and the fact that you signed it in the presence of the witnesses who then also signed it in your presence and watched each other sign.

Where should I keep my will?

Probably the best place to keep the original of your will is with your lawyer. Keep a copy for yourself, and put your lawyerís name, address and phone number on it so your survivors will know how to contact the attorney when you die. If you donít want your attorney to have the original of your will, you can keep it at home. Only do so if you have a safe that canít be broken into, or destroyed by fire. Keeping the original of the will in a bank safe deposit box is OK, but only if your survivors could get to it quickly when you die. Access policies differ from one bank to the next. A survivor can get immediate access if his or her name is on the box rental agreement. If itís not, the bank may not open it until a tax agent shows up or a court order is presented, either of which could take weeks or even months. An alternative would be to store the original in a safe deposit box held by your executor. The catch: If the executor dies before you do, youíll have to start looking for a place to store it all over again.

When should I set up a trust? Do I need one at all?

It depends on the size of your estate and the purpose of the trust. For example, if you mainly want a living trust to protect assets from taxes and probate but your estate is under the current federal tax floor ($675,000 for 2001) and small enough to qualify for quick and inexpensive probate in your state, some lawyers would tell you it isnít worth the cost. However, a trust can do a number of things a will canít do as well unless the will establishes a trust or pours over into a trust. If you want to avoid a court hearing if you become incompetent or unable to provide for yourself, or if you want to provide for grandchildren, minor children, or relatives with a disability that makes it difficult for them to manage money, a trust has many advantages. If you have a trust, your trustee can manage assets efficiently if you should die and your beneficiaries are minor children or others not up to the responsibility of handling the estate. And a trust can protect your privacy; unlike a will, a trust is confidential.

What is a testamentary trust?

A testamentary trust, sometimes called a death trust, is part of any last will and testament. A testamentary trust does not take effect until the person who made the will dies. As a result, the testamentary trust does not automatically prevent your assets from passing through probate or administration.

What kind of limitations can be put on gifts made in a will?

In general, you can pick who you want your property to go to and leave it in whatever proportions you want. Some people try to make their influence felt beyond the grave by attaching conditions to a gift made in the will (as opposed to the purely advisory language in a letter of intent). According to the American Bar Association, most lawyers advise against this; courts donít like such conditions, and youíre inviting a will contest if you try to tie them to a gift. For instance, you canít require your daughter to divorce her no-account husband to claim her inheritance from you; nor can your husband make your inheritance contingent on a promise youíll never remarry; nor can you force that secular humanist son-in-law go to church every Sunday. For the most part, though, itís your call.

Most married people plan to leave everything to their spouse, and if the spouse dies first, then it all goes to the children. Why is that a big mistake?

Many married people write a "simple will" that leaves everything to their spouse or, if the spouse dies first, leaves everything to their children. Unfortunately, such a will can cause huge problems later. For example, say John and Mary have two children. John dies, leaving everything to Mary. Mary later marries Bob, a widower with three children of his own. Then Mary dies, leaving everything to Bob. All of Johnís assets now belong to Bob, a guy he never met, and Johnís children get nothing. And when Bob dies, Bobís own children will inherit his assets -- which would now include everything that John and Mary had spent their whole lives working for. Check with a good estate planning attorney to answer your estate planning questions in detail. The first half hour is often free and if you take action on the ideas presented, it will be time well spent.

Should two people be appointed as joint guardians of my child?

Itís perfectly legal to name a couple as guardians of your child, but some lawyers and financial experts suggest you name one particular individual instead. Why? "Because couples get divorced, or they canít agree on how to raise the kids," according to The Five-Minute Lawyerís Guide to Estate Planning (Dell Publishing, New York). "Name the person you want, the one you most trust to make the right decisions, and then the couple can work out their respective roles between them."

Iím not sure my current husband will honor my wish to be buried next to my first husband. Should I include it in my will?

It couldnít hurt to include your burial preferences in your will, but itís certainly not required. Out of respect for the deceased and survivors alike, most wills arenít even opened until the funeral is held or, at least, burial arrangements have already been made. You didnít say whether you have discussed your burial wishes with your current husband, but he certainly has a right to know about them. If he doesnít want you to be buried next to your first husband but you are adamant about it, make sure that your children or other heirs are aware of your request. Tell your priest, minister or rabbi about your wishes, too.

How can I make sure that the people I want to inherit my property actually do so?

Whether you do it yourself or with the help of financial advisers, writing a will is key to insuring that the people you want to leave your property to actually get it. A will is, quite simply, a legal declaration that gives instructions on how to dispose of your assets when you die. You can divide your assets any way you want, as long as guidelines are presented clearly in writing. The portion of your estate covered by the will includes both tangible assets, like homes, cars, boats, artwork, collectibles and furniture, as well as intangible assets, like bank accounts, stocks, bonds and mutual funds. To specify that certain people should inherit particular tangible assets, insert in your will a provision known as a tangible personal property memorandum. Other rights and benefits, like pension rights and life insurance proceeds, are normally handled outside of your will. In any case, having a knowlegeable attorney prepare the appropriate documents is the best way to assure yourself that what you want done with your property after your death actually will be done.

How can you disinherit someone?

Say you get married and regret it. Your will leaves nothing to your spouse. Tough luck-your spouse will probably collect something (unless you are legally separated). A surviving husband or wife may be entitled to a statutory share of the estate regardless of the will. This is a percentage set by state law. If a husband or wife dies and his or her will makes no provision for the surviving spouse, or conveys to that person less than a certain percentage of the deceased spouseís assets, a surviving spouse can "take against the will." This means he or she can choose to accept the amount allowed by law (usually a third or half of the estate) instead of the amount bequeathed in the will. You or your spouse can voluntarily give up this legal protection in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement. You can disinherit a child in every state except Louisiana. Your will should state specifically that you are leaving that child no money or leaving a nominal sum like one dollar.

Can I disinherit my spouse?

Itís relatively easy to disinherit a friend or distant relative. Itís a little more difficult to disinherit a child. And, in some cases, itís literally impossible to completely disinherit your spouse. Laws concerning the disinheritance of a spouse vary from state to state. Itís easy to do in some states, and nearly impossible in others. Thereís some social logic involved here. Most state legislatures donít want to create a group of destitute widows and orphans with no roof over their head nor a penny to spare. Accordingly, most states have laws that permit a spouse to "elect" against his or her spouseís estate and receive a prescribed amount, or statutory share, equal to one-third or one-half of the estate. Itís sometimes easier to disinherit a spouse from a trust. Disinheriting can also be easier if a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement was signed. But if you really want to disinherit a spouse without his or her consent, youíll need the advice of a good attorney.

Can I disinherit my children?

Parents often decide to disinherit their children, and not necessarily as a punishment. There are several reasons why you might want to disinherit a child. Perhaps your child already has enough money, or another one of your children is in greater need of help. Or, your child might not want to receive assets from your estate for tax reasons. If you want to disinherit a child, though, you must have either a will or a living trust. If you die without one, your assets will be distributed according to state law-and nearly every state has laws that give children at least a portion of a parentís estate. Even better, your will or trust should specifically state that you are intentionally omitting the childís name from your estate. It will eliminate the chance that the child will step forward after you die and claim that he or she was mistakenly overlooked when the document was prepared. To be on the safe side, get the help of a lawyer if you want to disinherit your kid.

What are the duties of a beneficiary of a will?

Every will has at least one beneficiary, who will get some or all of the assets that the person who wrote the will leaves behind. A beneficiary can be anyone-your spouse or children, other relatives, friends or even total strangers. You can name a university, hospital or other institution as your beneficiary. For that matter, you can leave it all to your favorite pet. Unlike the executor of a will, beneficiaries usually donít have any duties other than to accept the property that you leave them. But even then, they have a choice. They can refuse to take possession of an asset by "disclaiming" it.

Whatís the best way to avoid conflict between estate beneficiaries?

Letís say your two daughters love your antique grandfatherís clock, so you leave it to both of them in your will. Will they share it in a loving way? Not likely! Few people can reach perfect accord over what to do with mutually owned property. Their personal and financial situations are different. So are their attitudes. What if one daughter moves to another state and takes the clock with her? To avoid conflict between estate beneficiaries, anything that canít be divided should either be left to one person or sold and the proceeds split. To specify that certain people should inherit particular tangible assets, insert in your will a provision known as a tangible personal property memorandum.

How can I write a will to minimize taxes for my beneficiaries?

Sometimes you can structure your will to minimize the taxes your beneficiaries will pay. According to "Wealth Enhancement & Preservation" (The Institute Inc., Denver), "If you have a complex will which has trusts written into it, federal estate taxes can be minimized or avoided. However, even complex wills must go through probate, and they provide no protection from disability." Unfortunately, most wills are "simple wills" that pass the entire estate from one spouse to the other and then onto the children. Under such an arrangement, there is no protection from federal estate taxes.

Is it possible for me to make a gift to charity through a charitable remainder trust and still benefit my heirs?

You can set up a charitable remainder trust to pass on assets to your favorite charity. This can be arranged with your alma mater, a hospital that once cared for you, or your church or synagogue. If you deposit appreciated assets such as stocks or bonds in the trust, you receive an immediate income tax deduction for your contribution and pay no taxes on the gain in value of those assets. During your lifetime, or for a specified period, you or other individuals (such as your heirs) also receive an annuity generated by the trust assets. At your death, the assets are retained by the charity. Consult your tax adviser, your favorite charity and your estate lawyer for help with these complex trusts.

I am planning to leave my entire estate to my spouse, but what would happen if we both died at the same time?

Many married people leave their entire estate to their spouse, or to their children if the spouse dies first. But that can create problems if the couple dies at the same time-for example, in an automobile crash-or if the two die within a very short time of each other. According to "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Planning Your Financial Future" (Lightbulb Press Inc., N.Y.), "To cover that possibility, you can include a simultaneous death clause in your will to pass your property directly to your surviving heirs. You can also require that any beneficiary survive you by a certain length of time-often 45 days-in order to inherit. This provision saves double taxes and court costs, and lets you decide who is next in line for your property." More importantly, you should meet with an attorney to help you and your spouse address all of the vital issues involved in estate planning.

Most married people plan to leave everything to their spouse, and if the spouse dies first, then it all goes to the children. Why is that a big mistake?

Many married people write a "simple will" that leaves everything to their spouse or, if the spouse dies first, leaves everything to their children. Unfortunately, such a will can cause huge problems later. For example, say John and Mary have two children. John dies, leaving everything to Mary. Mary later marries Bob, a widower with three children of his own. Then Mary dies, leaving everything to Bob. All of Johnís assets now belong to Bob, a guy he never met, and Johnís children get nothing. And when Bob dies, Bobís own children will inherit his assets -- which would now include everything that John and Mary had spent their whole lives working for. Check with a good estate planning attorney to answer your estate planning questions in detail. The first half hour is often free and if you take action on the ideas presented, it will be time well spent.

How can I use trusts to make sure my beneficiaries use their inheritance wisely?

To insure that an inheritance is used wisely, set up a trust in your will (called a testamentary trust). Trusts are popular among people with beneficiaries who arenít able to manage property well. This includes elderly beneficiaries with special needs or a relative who may be untrustworthy with money. It may be a good idea to require such beneficiaries to obtain money from a trustee who would exercise discretion about how to distribute it, instead of giving the money outright in your will. A discretionary trust gives the trustee leeway to give the beneficiary as much or little as he or she thinks appropriate. Another type of trust is a spendthrift trust. Itís simply a trust in which your instructions to the trustee carefully control how much money is released from the trust and at what intervals, so you can keep an irresponsible beneficiary from getting thousands of dollars in one stroke.

Who should I name executor of my will?

Every will must name an executor, sometimes called a personal representative, who will oversee settlement of the will-makerís estate and carry out the dead personís wishes. When youíre making your will, itís important to choose your executor carefully. Your spouse or a close friend might make a good executor, as long as theyíre comfortable handling financial and legal matters. Or, you could choose one of your children, but make sure theyíre of legal age. If your estate will be relatively complicated, you should probably pick a lawyer or similar professional to act as your executor instead. In addition to lending professional expertise, a lawyer will usually approach the job with little emotion, which can be a big plus. Another option is to name joint executors, such as a lawyer and your spouse.

 

What is disclaiming an inheritance?

When someone leaves you something in a will, you are not required to accept it. In some cases, disclaiming an inheritance can be a useful financial planning tool-especially if youíre affluent. Consider this example, from "Wealth Enhancement & Preservation" (The Institute Inc., Denver): "Assume Ralph, in poor health, age 65, and worth $8 million, stands to inherit another $2 million from his father. Knowing he has not long to live and not needing the money, which would be taxed in his estate at the 55 percent rate when he dies, he disclaims the inheritance. If this is done properly, the inheritance will not pass to Ralphís estate. If he disclaims in such a manner that his brother gets the money, Ralph has effectively avoided estate tax on the transfer." Of course, you can disclaim other items as well, like Aunt Janieís old sofa or the old clunker Grandpa left you. It wonít help your estate planning or save any taxes, but it wonít clutter up your garage, either.

What are inheritance taxes?

Inheritance taxes are state taxes that heirs must pay on the value of their inheritance. Estate taxes, by contrast, are levied by the state or federal government on the estate itself and require that the estate pay. You can specify in your will that you want your estate to pay any inheritance taxes that the government may slap on your heirs. Itís a nice gesture, and may even keep your heirs from being forced to sell property you leave them in order to pay taxes.

What are the tax consequences of inheriting a house?

When children inherit a home, the Internal Revenue Service determines their basis in the property on the date of the benefactorís death. The cost basis is not the amount the owner originally paid for the house. It is the propertyís fair market value on the date of the benefactorís death, says Pamela MacLean, assistant public affairs officer with the IRS. "Cost basis" is a tax term for the dollar amount assigned to a property at the time it is acquired, for the purpose of determining gain or loss when it is sold. Assume the property was divided up equally. If one of three siblings deemed to inherit the home sold her share, she must pay capital gains tax for whatever profit she made over one-third of the new basis, MacLean said. Other tax consequences include estate taxes. However, the estate must total $675,000 (in 2001) or more before tax issues become a concern. The IRS allow residents to pass on property, cash and other assets worth up to those totals before charging the heirs any taxes, according to MacLean. Regarding the transfer of ownership, quit claim deeds often are used between family members in situations such as this when an heir is buying out the other. All parties must be agreeable to dropping a name from the title.

What is a living will?

By writing a living will, youíre basically exercising your right to refuse treatment that would artificially prolong your life in the event you become incapacitated. According to Choice in Dying, the inventor of living wills, "Fifty states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing the use of some type of advance directive (i.e., living wills, medical powers of attorney). Laws that govern living wills and medical powers of attorney for health care vary from state to state. To ensure the greatest protection, an advance directive should reflect the most recent changes in state law." Everyone should have a living will; without one, your loved ones could be faced with agonizing decisions about what you might have wanted, and you will have failed to express your wishes in this crucial arena.
An attorney can help you write a living will.

 

Do I need a lawyer to draft my will?

The law doesnít require your will to be drafted by an attorney. But it doesnít hurt to use an attorney, and you should certainly consult one if you have any questions. If you think that the total value of your estate might come anywhere close to the amount exempted from federal estate taxes ($675,000 in 2001), you will definitely need to talk to an attorney.

What are the pitfalls of drafting my own will?

The chief pitfall is your lack of competence. There are many issues that may arise at death. Only a competent attorney who knows the law and is experienced probate and estate planning should draft a will. Your mistakes may be final and irreversible, and you wonít be around to fix them. Someone else will live with your mistakes, and your heirs canít sue you if you screw the whole thing up. A competent attorney probably wonít make gross mistakes, and if mistakes occur, the attorney will have malpractice insurance that will indemnify your heirs. A simple will costs around $500. A small mistake can cost thousands. If you hold substantial assets, or your wishes for distribution are complicated, you should consider obtaining the services of professional experts to make sure that your will covers every contingency. Also, because estate and probate laws vary considerably from state to state, it is important to be sure your will is drawn in accordance with local laws by an attorney familiar with them.

Do I need to notarize a will?

Your will does not need to be notarized. However, a formal will must be properly executed, which means that it contains a statement at the end attesting that it is your will, the date and place of signing, and the fact that you signed it in the presence of the witnesses who then also signed it in your presence and watched each other sign. Most states allow so-called self-proving affidavits, which eliminate the necessity of having the witnesses testify in court that they witnessed the signing; the affidavit is proof enough (it should be notarized). In other states, if the witnesses have since died or are unavailable, the court may have to get someone else to verify the legitimacy of their signatures.

How is it decided if I am competent when I write my will?

Any will can be challenged if someone believes that the will-maker was incompetent at the time the will was written. Your competency to make decisions can even be challenged while you are still alive. Establishing competency almost always involves going to court. A standard test used by judges to determine if a living person is competent involves the personís ability to show they have a general knowledge of their affairs. One key question the judge may ask is, "Do you know the natural objects of your bounty?" Those "objects" are usually considered your relatives, especially your kids (if you have any). Thereís also a chance your competency will be questioned after youíre dead-especially if you totally omit the name of a child or other close relative from your will. The child can argue that the very fact that you didnít mention them in your will is proof that you had already "lost it" when the will was drawn up. To defend against such a claim, some lawyers suggest that you mention each child by name when your will is created. If you donít want one of those children to get part of the estate, include language like, "And to my eldest son, David, I bequeath the sum of one dollar." Such specificity can clearly indicate your intent and serves as evidence that your wits were still intact when the will was drawn up.

What are inheritance taxes?

Inheritance taxes are state taxes that heirs must pay on the value of their inheritance. Estate taxes, by contrast, are levied by the state or federal government on the estate itself and require that the estate pay. You can specify in your will that you want your estate to pay any inheritance taxes that the government may slap on your heirs. Itís a nice gesture, and may even keep your heirs from being forced to sell property you leave them in order to pay taxes.

What are estate taxes?

Estate taxes are taxes based on the value of the estate you leave when you die. Estates valued at more than $675,000 for 2001are subject to the federal estate tax. Some states use lower limits, but other states charge no estate taxes at all. Any estate taxes that are due are usually paid by the estate itself. This sets them apart from inheritance taxes, which are state taxes that your heirs may be required to pay on the property they inherit. Note that the recently enacted Economic and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 will ultimately repeal the estate tax in 2010 and diminish its effect each year until then. 

How can I write a will to minimize taxes for my beneficiaries?

Sometimes you can structure your will to minimize the taxes your beneficiaries will pay. According to "Wealth Enhancement & Preservation" (The Institute Inc., Denver), "If you have a complex will which has trusts written into it, federal estate taxes can be minimized or avoided. However, even complex wills must go through probate, and they provide no protection from disability." Unfortunately, most wills are "simple wills" that pass the entire estate from one spouse to the other and then onto the children. Under such an arrangement, there is no protection from federal estate taxes.

What happens when the deceasedís will does not dictate how estate taxes should be paid?

When someone dies, the government may be able to levy death taxes. If the will does not specify how they will be paid -- or there simply isnít a will -- state and federal laws determine how the taxes must be paid. According to "The New Century Family Money Book" (Dell Publishing), "All taxes must be paid before a beneficiary can receive any property. In states that impose an inheritance tax, the amount of this tax comes directly from the property to be received. Any estate taxes must be apportioned among all property subject to such tax. When property is left to someone who would be entitled to a deduction because of this bequest, the property shall be exempt from having to share in paying the tax. Property left to the surviving spouse, for example, which qualifies for the marital deduction, does not pay federal estate taxes."

Can I deduct the legal fees I paid to contest my fatherís will?

You can deduct the cost of legal services for writing a will under several circumstances, but legal fees to contest a will are not among them. According to J.K. Lasserís "Your Income Tax" (Macmillan General Reference), "Legal costs of a will contest are generally not deductible because an inheritance is not taxable income. Similarly, legal fees incurred to collect a wrongful death award (which is tax-free income) are not deductible."

 

How can I change my will?

Everyone should have a will that explains how they want their assets distributed after they die. Itís equally important to review your will every year or two, because you might need to change it. If you want to change your will, you should get help from the person who prepared your original will. According to "On Your Own," 2nd Edition (Dearborn Financial Publishing, Inc., Chicago), "You should Consider changing your will if you remarry, you divorce, there is a tax law change, you have a child or grandchild, someone mentioned in the will dies, you move from one state to another, or the size of the estate has changed significantly. In the past, you might have added a codicil to your will to reflect a desired change. Today, signing a new will that reflects this change costs about the same and will be less subject to challenge."

When is it necessary to update or change a will?

Life does not stand still. Your circumstances are likely to change-you may have more children, acquire more assets, have a falling out with friends. Your children will grow up, you and your spouse may split up. And the law may change, making some of your estate planning obsolete or even counterproductive. According to the American Bar Association, itís a good idea to review your will and your inventory of assets and recipients at least once a year to make sure everything is accounted for. You can change, add to, or even revoke your will any time before your death as long as you are physically and mentally competent to make the change. An amendment to a will is called a codicil. You must formally execute a codicil before witnesses, using the same formalities as when executing the will itself. If you undergo a major life change, such as divorce, remarriage, having more children, and so on, itís a better idea to rewrite your will from scratch. Itís best to do this by executing a new will that states it revokes the old one.

I want to make some changes to my will, so is it OK to just make them on the original?

Small changes to a will can be handled through a codicil, or amendment, while major changes may require the writing of a whole new will. According to "Making the Most of Your Money" (Simon & Schuster Inc., New York), "The only way to make a small change in a will is to execute a formal codicil, amending it. Donít ink out an old provision or insert a new one. In some states and with some provisions, that works; in others it doesnít. Any change should be signed, dated, and witnessed according to your stateís procedures. Otherwise, the court will ignore the change or revoke the entire provision. Extensive changes might invalidate the entire will." Even if the change you want to make is minor, writing a whole new will may be just as easy if you or your attorney prepared the original with the help of one of the many will-making computer programs available today. The change could simply be made on the computer, the new will printed out and then signed in front of the required number of witnesses.

I have moved to another state since having my will drawn-up. Do I have to make an entirely new will?

Each state sets its own requirements for a will to be valid. You probably wonít have to tear up your current will and start from scratch if you have moved, but some fine-tuning will undoubtedly be needed. The attorney who prepared your will four years ago can either research the laws of your new state himself or refer you to a lawyer in your new neighborhood. A key question: whether the executor-the person you chose to administer your will-can still fulfill his duties now that you have moved. Trying to administer a will from another state can be a logistical nightmare. Some states will even nullify a will if the executor does not live in the same state.

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