Wills FAQ – Understanding Your Estate Planning Needs

As you consider planning for the future, it’s natural to have questions about creating a will – a fundamental document in estate planning. This section addresses common inquiries to help you understand the need for a will and how to ensure it reflects your wishes.

What Occurs if I Pass Away Without a Will?

Without a will, known as dying intestate, the distribution of your assets will be governed by state law, typically favoring spouses and children. In absence of immediate family, assets may pass to other relatives or ultimately escheat to the state. A court will decide guardianship for your minor children if the other parent is not able to assume the role.

Unmarried couples face additional challenges, as the surviving partner may not inherit unless domiciled in states recognizing registered domestic partnerships with inheritance rights like California or Vermont.

How is a Will Legally Recognized? Must I Involve an Attorney?

A legally valid will requires an adult of sound mind to meet several criteria:

  • Signing the will in front of two witnesses (three in Vermont), who are generally not beneficiaries.
  • Affixing a date and your signature to the document.

While notarization is not mandatory, doing so with witnesses can expedite court validation after your passing. There is no official requirement to file your will with the government, but ensure it is stored safely and your executor knows its location.

Although hiring an attorney is not obligatory, it’s advisable if your situation is complex. For more direct assistance from James H. Wilson Law Firm, please contact us at 804.740.6464.

Is a Handwritten Will Sufficient if My Property is Limited?

Recognized in about half of the states, “holographic” wills must be entirely in your handwriting and signed, sometimes necessitating a date. Despite their validity, they are scrupulously examined in court, and ambiguities may arise. Thus, witnessed wills are generally preferred.

Can I Appoint a Guardian for My Children in the Will?

Yes, nominating a personal guardian to raise your children until they are adults is a crucial function of your will. Both parents should agree on the candidate to prevent conflicts. It is also possible to designate a separate guardian or trustee to manage any inherited property.

Am I Obliged to Leave Assets to My Spouse and Children?

Surviving spouses are legally entitled to a portion of the estate, which varies based on whether you reside in a community property state or not. Consult with a lawyer if you intend to bequeath less than half of your estate to your spouse. As for children, it is typically lawful to disinherit them, but be wary of inadvertently excluding those born after writing your will.

Is There a Risk of My Will Being Contested?

Challenges to wills are uncommon and require a substantial claim such as a forged signature or evidence of incapacity or undue influence.

How Do I Select the Right Will-Making Tool?

Choosing the appropriate will-making product depends on your estate’s value, distribution wishes, and preference for software or a physical book. Our firm can guide you through products suitable for various estate plans, from small to substantial. For a complete comparison of will-making tools, reach out to us for personalized advice.

For any questions or to set up a will consultation, don’t hesitate to contact James H. Wilson at 804.740.6464. We’re here to ensure your estate planning is tailored to your unique needs, offering peace of mind and legal clarity for the future.

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