What do I need to do to create a will?

A will is a legal document that is generally used to describe how you want your estate to be distributed after your death. It might also be used to name an executor for your estate or a guardian for your minor children. It is generally a good practice to name backup beneficiaries, executors, and guardians just in case they are needed. Even though it's not a legal requirement, a will should generally be drafted by an attorney.

In order to make a will, you must be of legal age (18 in most states). You must also understand what property you own, who the family members or friends it would seem natural to leave property to are, and who gets what under your will.

Generally, a will is a written document that must be executed with appropriate formalities. You should sign the document (or direct someone else to sign for you in your presence). The will should also be signed by at least two witnesses who are of legal age and understand what theyare witnessing; some states require three witnesses. The witnesses should not benefit from any provisions in the will. Some states also require that a will be notarized.

Some states allow a will that is entirely in your handwriting, known as a "holographic" will. Some states allow a "nuncupative" will, which is an oral will you dictate during your last illness, before witnesses, that is later converted to writing.

Note that certain property is not transferred by a will. For example, property you hold in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety passes to the surviving joint owner(s) at your death. Also, certain property (e.g., life insurance, qualified retirement plans, IRAs, Totten Trust accounts, Payable on Death accounts, Transferrable on Death accounts) passes directly to the designated beneficiary at your death, bypassing the probate process.

Your will does not take effect until you die. You can create a new will or revoke or amend an existing will up until your death.

How do I change or revoke a will?

Your will does not take effect until you die. You can create a new will or revoke or amend an existing will up until your death.

A will remains valid until properly revoked or superseded. Revoking your will must be done very carefully. Most state laws require that the will be revoked by a subsequent instrument (a new will) or by a physical act (e.g., destroying or defacing it). This means the will must either be burned, torn, or canceled with the intent to revoke. You might, for example, write REVOKED across the will and sign and date the revocation.

You can amend (change) your will by executing a codicil. A codicil is a separate, written, and formally executed document that becomes part of your will. More specifically, a codicil is a supplement or addition to a will that explains, modifies, or revokes a previous will provision or that adds an additional provision. A codicil generally should be used only for minor changes to your will. You should execute a new will if there are many changes or a major change.

A codicil should generally be executed with the same formalities as required for a will. In general, the codicil must be signed, dated, and witnessed in accordance with the laws of the appropriate state.

The codicil should be attached to the will it is amending. Be sure to draft, execute, and attach a copy of the codicil to each copy of your will.

Although a new will usually must be contested in its entirety, some states will allow a codicil to be contested on its own. If it is found to be invalid, only the changes contained in the codicil will be voided and the remaining will provisions remain valid.

Some states provide that provisions in a will may be revoked automatically upon marriage or divorce. It is generally a good practice to review your will and make changes as needed upon marriage or divorce, or for any other major changes in your life.

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Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015.