Peace of mind on a piece of paper
Life is full of uncertainty. People get married, kids are born, accidents and illnesses happen. Death is an inevitable fact of life, and it can happen without warning. And since we cannot take our possessions with us when we die, it is important to figure out well ahead of time how your assets will be distributed when the unthinkable happens.
A will is a statement (oral or written) that directs the disposition of your property after you die. It becomes final when it is properly signed and witnessed, and it becomes effective after you die and when all probate procedures are met.
It is important to note that a will has no legal effect as long as the testator (the person who wrote the will) is still alive.
What you need to know before you write a will
Before you create a will, you have to gather necessary information. This includes:
- Beneficiaries and heirs — people or charitable organizations who will inherit your property.
- Property (including where it is located and who is on the title) and debts.
- Bequests — the names of people and specific property they will receive, and who will receive the property if they do not outlive you.
- Residuary beneficiary — the person or people who will receive property you do not specify in the will.
- Executor (and alternate) — the person or people who will be responsible for carrying out the will.
- Guardian (and alternate) — person or people who will care for your children or dependents.
- Provisions for disposition of your debts and funeral expenses. Usually, this comes from the residuary estate (i.e., what is leftover after specific bequests of property). Please note that will executions often take place after the funeral, so it may be prudent to take care of burial arrangements separate from a will.
Elements of a will
In order to be legally binding, a will must meet several basic requirements. These are:
- Legal age — you must be 18 in both DC and Virginia.
- Testamentary capacity — also referred to as “of sound mind,” meaning you must have the sufficient mental capacity to create a legal will.
- Intent to make the document or statement your will.
- The will must be voluntary, without coercion or duress.
- The will must properly dispose of your property.
- The will should be written and witnessed by two other parties (though wills can be oral).
- The will must be properly executed, per state law. In DC and Virginia, this means that you must sign the will in front of two witnesses, and both witnesses in turn must sign as well.
PLEASE NOTE: There is no notary requirement for a will in either Virginia or DC.
Once your will is properly signed and witnessed, you should keep the original in s secure place, either in a safety deposit box, safe, or with your attorney.
This blog is an advertisement for the Law Office of Philip R. Yabut, PLLC, and the information in this post is not to be construed as legal advice, nor does reading it form an attorney-client relationship. Please do not post confidential information in the comments section.
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