Legal Topics


Your Will and the Law

A will is a written legal document that details how you would like your property and other assets to be distributed after your death. This document is never meant to expire and should be counted as valid in a court of law. A will can offer you peace of mind and ensure that your loved ones are provided for when you're gone.

In most jurisdictions, you have to be at least eighteen years old and mentally competent in order to make a will. A will can be either handwritten or typed, and it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses in order to be valid. Witnesses to a signing are usually required to be impartial, meaning they cannot also be relatives or listed as beneficiaries in your will. In the event, though, that your will fails to be considered valid in court, your estate will go to your nearest heirs, which would begin with your spouse, followed by your children, your parents (if still living), your siblings, and distant relatives. Should you be without any living relatives, then your assets would be handed over to the state.

While it is possible to choose a child or minor to inherit your property, it's usually recommended that you designate an adult to manage the property into the child becomes an adult as well. You can also determine who will inherit property in the event that the person you previously designated as an heir dies before you. This alternative heir would be listed as a "contingent beneficiary."

If you wish to make a change to your will (like in the event that you own new property or you want to change the terms of inheritance), you'll need the services of a good lawyer, although it's possible to make changes without legal consultation. In either case, you can either write up a new last will and testament or you can make a revision by writing up a legal amendment known as a "codicil." The codicil must be as formal and unambiguous as the will itself, and it must be signed and dated in the presence of witnesses.

It is now possible to find online resources for writing, changing, and validating a legal will through websites like Legal Zoom. You can also look up attorneys who specialize in the preparation of wills through the American Bar Association and websites like

Image by Ken Mayer on Flickr

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