Everyone knows what a will is. But, do you know the importance of having one?

What this document means and the reasons why you should prepare a will? And what happens to your money and property if you don’t have one?

Basically, a will, or a “last will and testament” as it is more officially known, is a legal document prepared under very strict standards that sets out your wishes as to how your estate (your money, property and realty) is distributed after your death. But, it does even more than that, spelling out your desires with respect to other important areas. A will makes clear your wishes when it comes to who will take care of any minor children you may have, your choice of a person to be in charge of your affairs after you pass away and even sets out your instructions as to your funeral and burial details.

Along with other important legal documents such as living wills, financial durable powers of attorney and trusts, a will is a valuable part of a complete estate plan that will give you peace of mind and make things much easier on your surviving loved ones.

Upon your passing, your estate has to go somewhere. Your will is your specific instructions of who should receive your money and property after you pass away and must be followed by your executor, the person chosen by you to be in charge of your estate and by the local Probate Court.

If you have a valid will, it will be admitted to probate and your wishes followed. If you do not have a will, you are said to have passed “intestate.” If this happens, the court, not you, dictates who receives your estate and in what amounts, following a series of laws known as Intestate Succession that disburses your property to your family members by degree of kinship.

However, this court ordered distribution may not have been what you intended. Similarly, if you have minor or special needs children, the court will select a guardian for them who may not be the person you would want. Whether your goal is to provide for your heirs or to direct who inherits your estate, a valid will accomplishes both.

These are all important reasons to have a will, to clearly state your intentions with regard to your children, property and money.

A will, once properly prepared, signed, witnessed and notarized, is a binding legal document that carries great significance. It can last forever, but it only speaks upon death. Until that time, you are free to spend your money and use your home and assets in any manner you want as well as change and amend your will if you would like.

Of course, no one likes to think about preparing their will or other end of life issues, but it is only proper and responsible planning to have one. Whether you have few assets or many, directing what becomes of them is your right and your loved ones will one day benefit from your responsible preparation. To be valid, a will must meet certain legal requirements that can be accomplished by a licensed and experienced estate planning attorney.

Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-5961726.

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