No one especially enjoys planning for their own death and how to disburse personal items, including money, to the people they want to have them. However, creating a will while you’re of sound mind relieves a great burden from your loved ones. It saves your family time, money, and emotional distress from having to make tough decisions after you’re gone.
What is a Will?
A will is a legally recognized document that allows you to name a person to manage your estate after your death. An estate doesn’t have to be a high-value property. It can include simple things such as photographs and other items that have more sentimental than financial value. If you have strong feelings about who gets what or you want to avoid the potential of family members fighting over your belongings after you pass away, then writing a will is in your best interest.
The executor of your will is the person you choose to manage your estate and disburse your money and personal items. It’s his or her job to ensure that each person named in your will receives what you have designated. Beneficiary is the name of any person who receives money or goods based on the wishes you expressed in your will.
It’s an especially good idea to prepare a will if you’re the parent of minor children. While custody would normally transfer to the surviving parent, he or she may already be deceased or not involved in the children’s lives. By drafting a will, you can specify who you would like to take custody of your children until they reach adulthood.
When You Die without Leaving a Will
According to a recent survey from the American Association for Retired People (AARP), 40 percent of people over age 45 currently have not prepared a will. Unfortunately, this means that someone you don’t know will make decisions on behalf of your estate. What many people don’t realize is that not creating a will is not an act of indifference with no consequences. It simply means that a person appointed by the state will manage your estate rather than someone you deliberately choose.
When a person dies without a will in place, he or she becomes what is legally known as interstate. That means an outside executor will disburse your estate based on Virginia laws or the laws where you lived at the time of your death. The state laws dictate who among your family members inherits your money and other items.
Your estate enters a process called probate, which is a term used to describe the legal process of transferring the property of a deceased individual to the rightful heirs. With no will in place, a judge appoints an estate administrator. The state also steps in if a family law judge deems your will to be invalid.
How to Ensure Your Will is Valid
Your will must meet certain criteria for a judge to recognize it as legal and valid. These include:
- It follows all state laws
- You are at least 18 years of age and of sound mind
- You demonstrate a good understanding of the property and other assets that you own
- You have signed and dated your will
- At least two people witnessed the signing of your will
- The will has been notarized if you plan to make it self-proving, which means that the executor doesn’t need to contact the people who originally witnessed you signing the will
- You demonstrate that you fully understand the results of preparing a will
If you’re considering preparing a will or you have additional questions before you start, please contact St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana at 434-296-7138 to request a free consultation with one of our family law attorneys.