A will is a legal document that determines what happens to a person’s property after his or her death. A will states who receives property and assets and in what amount. Property distributed under the terms of the will become the probate estate. Making a will is a responsibility, as well as a right that is protected by law.
A will should be made when a person is legally competent, having a sound mind and at least 18 years old. It should be prepared while its maker is in good health and free from emotional stress. In other words, to make a valid will, people must understand things such as what property they own, its value, and whom they are leaving it after their death.
A person does not need to have a large estate to plan and prepare a will. Anyone who owns property, including cash, stocks, jewelry or furniture, or real property, such as land or house, could prepare a will. If married, each spouse should have a will indicating the ownership and transfer of property.
In addition to distributing or transferring of property, a will should have other functions. It may be used to name a guardian for any minor children or to create a trust and designate a trustee to handle an estate (property left after death) on behalf of children or others. A will may also be used to name a personal representative or an executor to handle a decedent's property and affairs from the time of death until an estate is settled.
When there is no valid will, the person is said to have died intestate. A court appoints an administrator to handle the decedent's affairs, and his or her property is then distributed according to a formula fixed by law. After payment of taxes, debts, funeral expenses and administrative costs, the property goes to the surviving spouse, children or relatives. The laws are specific as to how property is to be distributed, including which relatives have priority and how the property is divided.
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