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What Does a Will Look Like
If you are asking the question "what does a will look like?", you are probably looking for the paperwork that will be required for a loved one's probate The good news is that many wills do follow a fairly standard format, and as such they are often easy to identify. Indeed, many wills actually lead with a header that says "Last Will and Testament." occasionally you may find a will that is not of standard format, but even in those cases, it should quickly become clear that you are reading a will within the first paragraph of the document.
That said, the question is not necessarily what does a will look like, but where would your loved one have stored that will, or even, whether your loved one ever engaged an attorney or service provider to draft a will in the first place. Should you ultimately discover that the latter is true, you have little recourse beyond probate court (please check with an attorney on the specifics of your situation). However, if you are certain that your loved one did draft a last will and Testament, and then you should ultimately be able to produce the document.
In terms of specifics, as mentioned previously, a will is generally announced as such either in the document’s header, or within the documents first sentence. As seen in picture 2, it is not unusual for the header text to be written in calligraphy. Should your loved one have written a Will his or herself, you would still expect to find the words Last Will and Testament early on in the document. You would also expect to find the language “being of sound mind and memory” or “being of sound mind and body” written in the introductory paragraph. While this is not always the case, it is fairly standard procedure to include this language in the document.
Structurally, the Will is normally separated into individual articles. These articles will deal with individual components of the will separately. For example, Article 1 will often identify the executor of the will. The executor is the person of organization that is ultimately responsible for administering the estate. Once find the will, you will need to provide a copy to the named executor should he or she not already have a copy.
Additional articles will generally deal with other aspects of settling the estate. Often a will provides for details concerning the burial arrangements and instructions for the payment of those arrangements. From there, the will should begin to define how the assets of the estate are to be allocated.
Bellow is an example of how you might expect a standard will to be structured.
Opening - Last Will and Testament of (person named)
Article 1 - (Personal Representative)
Article 2 - (Burial Arrangements / Payment of Debts)
Article 3 - (Gifts of Charity)
Article 4 - (Bequests other than charity)
Article 5 - (Residuary Estate)
Article 6 - (Guardian of Dependent Children)
Article 7 - (Beneficiaries of Trust)
Article 8 - (Powers of the Personal Representatives)
Article 9 - (Miscellaneous instructions and other items)
To be clear, this is an example of the structure you may find in the will (i.e. what a will looks like) and not an absolutely standard format. It does, however, provide a solid example for those who are looking for a will among many documents. Further, the attached pictures will provide for several examples of what you might expect to find when looking for a will. These documents are representative of what many wills look like.
If after extensive searching, you are unable to find a will, you may not be out of luck. If you are familiar with the attorney of your loved one, there is a strong likelihood that he or she will have a copy of the will they prepared for you loved one. A quick call to that attorney could prove extremely valuable in terms of avoiding the constraints of Probate Court with your loved one having died intestate (without a will). When someone dies intestate, the courts will determine how the assets of the estate are to be dived. Obviously this is not ideal, so it does make sense that you exhaust all possibilities in finding the will of the deceased.
Once you become familiar with the general structures of a will it will become much easier to quickly understand what a will looks like, and you should have relatively little difficulty finding the will among all of the remaining paperwork of your loved one. In any case, be diligent in your search, and move slowly during your search. I can be easy for grieving family members to lose focus as they search through belongings, and you certainly do not what to risk throwing the will away.
Notice: This article is not intended to provide legal or financial advice. The reader should seek that advice and guidance of an attorney and/or financial advisor when developing a will.
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