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Will Information

How Elaborate Does My Will Need to Be?

Wills are not necessarily complicated documents to write, but most people will need some kind of help, either from a book, a computer program, or another person (such as a lawyer). In the U.S., some states allow what is called a "holographic will." This is a handwritten and unwitnessed will. Bear in mind that even in the states that allow such wills as legal documents, the holographic will must be written and signed by the person whose will it is. Some of these states additionally require that the document be signed. Having a holographic will is better than having no will at all, but having a witnessed will is definitely preferable. Signed, legal wills will be executed much more swiftly and exactly, whereas holographic wills spend a good deal of time in probate court, where judges will scrutinize the document to establish its legitimacy. (The longer your will remains in probate, the more it ends up costing before you can execute the will.)

A basic will is good enough to serve if you are young and healthy, have an estate that is under $2 million, and you don't expect to owe estate taxes. If your property is basic enough that you can succinctly detail what you own and who it all should go to, you can create your own will with the help of books or computer programs and without lawyer involvement. However, people with large estates and assets will have a more complicated will and may benefit from legal advice. $2 million estates will have intricate wills that need the benefit of a legally trained eye.

There are certain other people (with property worth under $2 million) who should consider more professional help in creating their wills. A common example would be people with children. Divorced people with custody of children often have special interest in who would raise those children if something were to happen to them. Others with special needs children will often have a keen interest in the future guardianship of their children. People who want to control the long-term administration of their property have complicated wills or trusts. Special attention should also be paid to your will if you fear it will be contested after your death. Small business owners often have complicated wills because there may be questions about their stake in the business and the stakes and rights of surviving owners.

Another way wills become complicated is if the writer chooses to disinherit their spouse. Existing laws protect surviving spouses from being left with nothing when their partner dies. Some states have community property laws so that a spouse automatically owns half of the property and savings accumulated during the marriage. If you die, your spouse will be entitled to his or her half. You can, additionally, leave the rest of the property that belongs solely to you for your spouse, or you can name a separate beneficiary. Married people trying to leave more than half their estate to someone other than their spouse will most likely require a consultation with an experienced lawyer.

How to Create a Will.

Should You Have a Will?

Protect Your Children With a Will.