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What is a Last Will and Testament?
A Will is a document that does not take effect until the time of your death. A Will is used to probate your estate and direct the distribution of any assets which you held in your name alone at the time of your death. Please note it is important for you to realize it only will distribute assets in your name alone and will not have any effect on joint assets or on assets that have beneficiary designations (such as Life Insurance) unless the designation indicates that it should be paid to your estate.
What Does the Will Allow Me to Do?
Generally, your Will allows you to select the beneficiaries that will receive any assets which you owned in your name at the time of your death. Also, a Will is used to nominate guardians to care for family members if you have minor or incompetent children or dependents. The Will also allows you to select one or more Executors who will be the person responsible for handling your estate.
What Types of Property Are Not Affected by the Will?
Generally, your Will does not effectively direct the disposition of any property which is jointly owned with another individual, particularly if that person has a right of survivorship. For jointly owned property in which there is a right of survivorship (such as joint bank accounts), the asset will pass automatically to the joint owner regardless of what your Will indicates. In addition to jointly owned property, certain assets which have beneficiary designations are not disposed of by a Will. For example, life insurance benefits, retirement benefits, 401K plans, IRA plans, annuities or any assets titled into a Trust prior to your death all will be distributed without regard to what your Will directs unless they are made payable to your estate.
Is There a Need for any other Estate Planning Documents?
In addition to a Will, there are several documents which are also very important to the estate planning process. A Will is only one of the estate planning documents that you need and is not sufficient to replace a Power of Attorney for finances and Advance Directives (Health Power of Attorney and Living Will) which are effective during your lifetime. In addition, if one of your estate planning goal to avoid the probate process, a Will, although important as a back up document, is not likely to be the only document which you will need.
Why is the Titling of Assets so Important in my Estate Plan?
As was mentioned previously, property which is owned jointly will pass automatically without regards to the Will. Therefore if your wishes are to have property go somewhere other than to the joint owner, your wishes could be frustrated and defeated if assets are not properly titled. As a result, it is extremely important that in addition to the documents prepared for your estate plan, you review your assets and title them correctly so that your estate plan works as you desire.
How Often Should I Change My Will?
You should review your Will every few years to make sure that it functions as you want. Often times circumstances may dictate that you change whom you want to act as the Executor, whom you want to appoint as Guardian, or even where you want your property to go. Also, you should review your Will, or discuss with your attorney any major changes in your life. These would include things such as purchasing a house, receiving money or inheritances, having children, etc. Discussing these events with your elder law attorney will ensure that your Will matches your needs.
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