Have You Made a Will? Importance of a Will.

Have You Made a Will?

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Your Will—a Legal Privilege

Yes, making wills is a privilege. Not all nations have made allowance for them. Sir William Blackstone, the noted eighteenth-century English jurist, observed that “the right of making wills, and disposing of property after death, is merely a creature of the civil state . . . which has permitted it in some countries and denied it in others.”
In some feudal societies custom compelled a man to will the best of his personal properties to “his [feudal] lord and the church.” In England the Catholic Church controlled matters regarding wills for centuries.
Today, however, while insisting that a surviving mate be provided for, most nations allow you to will your goods as you see fit. But the same legal procedures for doing so are not followed in each place, as laws vary from nation to nation and, in the United States, from state to state. But regardless of where you live, you must take action to see that your property is distributed as you desire. Only you can make your will.

Have You Made a Will?

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Who May Make a Will?

This is not to say that everybody can make a will; there are limitations. For example, in the United States, most, though not all, states require that you be twenty-one years of age at the time you make it. In other words, if you produce a will when you are twenty years old, that particular will does not become effective when you turn twenty-one. It is forever invalid because you were not twenty-one at the time of making it.
Similarly, a person must be mentally competent when composing his will. One may suffer from mental or emotional illness of some kind. But, at the time he is producing the will, does he know exactly what he is doing? Does he remember in a general way what is his property? And does he remember people he has known all through life? If so, he can make a valid will.
Additionally, at the time of making his will a person should not be under the influence of alcohol. Nor should he be unduly influenced by another person or group. Commenting on this latter aspect of will-making, the 1971 Encyclopædia Britannica observes:
“Coaxing and persuasion are generally not held to constitute undue influence unless there were actual threats. A testator [the one making the will] may be led, but he may not be pushed. Undue influence may be held to exist, however, where a testamentary disposition was brought about by a person upon whom the testator was dependent or whom he was likely to obey blindly.”—Vol. 23, page 526.
These are fundamental qualifications. If they are met, how should the will be worded?

Have You Made a Will?

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What Can Be a Will?

Intent, not precise wording, is the important thing. It need not necessarily be couched in legal terminology. But clearly and with no ambiguity, a statement must show that it is in reality a will.
Certain wills are not written. Under peculiar circumstances some governments have allowed oral statements to serve as wills. However, these are generally frowned upon and best avoided, as there is too much danger of misunderstanding. Something written by or under the immediate direction of the testator is more conclusive.
Letters, when the intent of the author was clear, have served as wills on occasion. Laws in some places have required that these be witnessed, although in other cases this requirement has been waived.
In some places a holographic will, that is, one written by the hand of the testator himself, is not only acceptable, but customary. In France, for example, the only requirements for this type of will are that the testator should write it out in its entirety himself, date and sign it. Laws vary regarding the holographic will in each state of the United States. Some states do not allow them at all. Other states may allow parts of it to be typewritten or require that it be signed, while others may stipulate just the opposite.
The complications that can be caused by such legal variations are best entirely avoided. How? By consulting a lawyer

Have You Made a Will?

Why See a Lawyer?

True, an attorney is not legally necessary to make a valid will. Nevertheless, usually only a lawyer will be up-to-date on all the latest laws affecting the subject. For example, an attorney will know current answers to such questions as, How many witnesses are required for a will in your area? May a witness also be a beneficiary? May you sign your will on Sunday?
In Law for Laymen, Harold D. Greeley gives another example to illustrate the wisdom of checking with an attorney:
“In the New York courts there have been many cases of worthless wills executed on printed forms sold by stationers, because some dispositive [regulative] provision followed the signature of the maker, whereas the New York law requires that the will be signed at the end.”—Page 305.
Because of not complying with simple laws like this your will regarding your property may be legally challenged. Expert advice is needed.
Understandably, the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare says in its booklet Planning for the Later Years: “The importance of getting competent legal advice on any real legal question or problem cannot be overemphasized.”

Have You Made a Will?

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Saving on Legal Fees

It is true that an attorney is an added expense. However, all things considered, consulting a lawyer could prove to be more economical than not doing so. He can show you, for instance, how to avoid expenses and taxes connected with distributing property to your heirs. This would benefit them.
But there are also a number of ways you personally can save money when dealing with an attorney. First of all, a lawyer should not object if you ask him in advance how much his services will be. Some cities have a lawyer referral service which grants short interviews for a small fixed fee. If, after taking advantage of this service, you should need more time, you can inquire about further consultation and costs.
In some areas there are even legal aid bureaus that provide free lawyers for poorer people. However, what you do before you visit any attorney is also a key to avoiding expense.

Have You Made a Will?

Have You Made a Will?

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Before You Visit an Attorney

Before you visit an attorney organize a check list to assist him in drawing up your will. This saves him time. His time is costly, so really such advance planning saves you money. Take your time. Make your list thorough. Provide information of both a personal and a legal nature.
Personal details might be simplified by making a family tree showing full names, ages and addresses of members of your immediate family. With it you would want to include full information about a previous mate if you have ever been divorced or separated.
List all of your real property (such as land, buildings). Give addresses if these are in the city; if in the country, provide exact survey information. Then no one can later challenge your will because it says ‘south side of such and such a hill,’ when, in reality it proves to be the ‘southeast side.’
Clearly spell out what you have in the way of personal property. What about trusts? Life insurance policies? Bank accounts? Stocks? Bonds? Jewelry? Give a summary of all your assets and liabilities.
With this done, decide what you want to do with your property. Who will be your beneficiaries? What will each acquire? Who will serve as alternate beneficiaries should one of the originals die?
Do you wish to include a charity in your bequests? If so, the advice of René A. Wormser is sound:
“In selecting the agencies which are to administer your ‘charities,’ make certain beforehand that they are legally privileged to accept the gift. The institution you have in mind may not be entitled to take charitable bequests through wills, and may be restricted to those for which it was created . . .
“Inquire. Make certain that it can take bequests, that it can take your bequest. . . . It can refuse.”—Your Will and What Not to Do About It, page 104.
Other matters concerned with the distribution of your property also take forethought. Who will be the executor of the will? This is a party—often a mate or offspring—appointed to see that the provisions of the will are carried out. Check in advance with this party (and perhaps an alternate) to ascertain their willingness to accept the responsibility.
Finally, do not forget more personal matters. Do you desire to mention special funeral arrangements? Would you like to name a guardian for an infant or its property?
Being prepared with information of this kind before you see a lawyer will result in a saving of time and money. It best assures your desires being incorporated into the will and then expedited. But, once a will is made, what should be done with it?

Have You Made a Will?

After Completing Your Will

It should be stored in a safe place, preferably with other valuable papers. Many authorities advise against keeping it in a bank’s safe-deposit box because of the red tape involved to get the box opened after a person’s death. A delay in getting to your will may mean that immediate provisions, such as those regarding your funeral, are not available.
Therefore, you may choose to leave it with your lawyer or a trusted friend. In some areas, it can be placed on file at the office of the register of wills for a small fee.
Because of the changes in tax laws and your own circumstances it is wise periodically to review your will and make a new one when necessary. A new will should be so worded that it clearly shows that it replaces all former ones; old wills (and copies) may best be destroyed. You can check this out with your attorney, as in some states it may be advisable to keep them.
Without a doubt your will is an important document. Your family members and other heirs benefit by it. But so do you! Your mind is set at ease to know that in an uncertain world you have taken what steps you can to insure some continued provision for those you love.

Have You Made a Will?

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