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Estate Planning – What is a Will?


At Hays Firm, we often get calls from individuals and families who are just beginning the estate planning process. Most people have a general idea of what a will is. Our pop culture of television and movies often include characters changing theirs wills, the dramatic “reading” of wills, and strange or humorous provisions in wills. While pop culture provides us with wonderful entertainment, it does not necessarily provide a great education about wills.

In reality, many people think that a will is not necessary unless one has extreme wealth. However, a will can be useful if you have young children, and little assets, because you are able to nominate a guardian for your children.

Some people think that since they have verbally expressed their wishes, a will is not necessary. Unfortunately, verbal promises are not binding after you pass. A will can provide guidelines for your family and those guidelines are enforceable in court if there is a dispute after you die.

What is a will? A will is simply the written declaration of a person’s intentions as to the disposition of his or her property. “Disposition” could mean that property is sold, transferred, or directly given to beneficiaries after the person’s death. A will provides surviving family members with distinct directions, and expresses the person’s wishes in writing.

In a will, an executor is named. The executor is responsible for following through with the directions outlined in the will. For example, if the will states that the person’s home must be given to her granddaughter, the executor is responsible for ensuring that the property is in fact transferred to the granddaughter.

A will is enforceable only at death and not before. Until one’s death, one’s will may be amended or revoked. A will must be signed by the person creating the will and two witnesses. The witnesses must be independent. They cannot be related to the person creating the will. They cannot be named in the will. The witnesses must see the person creating the will sign the will and they must see each other sign the will. Often times, a will is notarized but notarization is not required in most states.

The Hays Firm has vast experience drafting wills for individuals who have a variety of concerns and needs. If you are interested in learning more about wills and how they will benefit you and your family, please contact one of our attorneys.