What is a will?
A will is a document that details how you want your property distributed after you die. It is the most common method people use to put their final affairs in order while they are still alive. Wills are not the only way to do this, but they can be relatively easy and inexpensive to create.
Crafting a will lets you make decisions on your own behalf rather than having the state of Arkansas make those decisions for you. Having a will means you get to make decisions about your assets and your heirs even after you have passed away, and a will gives you a significant amount of flexibility when it comes to fulfilling your wishes.
The importance of estate planning
Only 4 in 10 Americans have created a will or a living trust. That is not good enough. The legal term for dying without a valid will is “dying intestate.” When a person dies intestate, the state probate court decides what happens to the person’s assets, and the line of succession is based on state law. If you die intestate, your assets will go to your closest living relatives, in accordance with state laws, whether or not you wish it.
If you feel comfortable with allowing the state to divide your assets, then dying without a will may seem fine. However, that does not mean you should not have a will in place. How you organize your affairs at the end is very important and can greatly affect your loved ones, even as they grieve over their loss of you. Not having a will only worsens the situation, so it’s best to detail what happens to your assets before you are gone.
Make Sure Your Will is Legally Valid
Perhaps you have seen movies in which someone writes a will on a scrap of paper just before death. Maybe you have also heard of someone writing a will on a legal pad, leading to a drawn-out family dispute. Such wills could be legal under certain circumstances, but that is always a gamble. For example, there are specific laws determining what makes a handwritten will legal in Arkansas.
State law governs legal wills. In general, the person creating the will must at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The will must be in writing, and it must be signed in the presence of witnesses. A handwritten will, referred to as a holographic will, must be written entirely, and signed, in the hand of the person creating it. After death, at least three credible disinterested witnesses will need to verify the handwriting and signature on a holographic will.
The validity of a will also depends on what state law refers to as the “testamentary capacity” of the person making the will.
In order to meet the requirement for “testamentary capacity,” the person writing the will must understand a few things. First, he or she must understand the purpose of a last will and testament. Second, he or she must understand that the document he or she is signing is a will. Lastly, he or she must understand that his or her signature on the document orders the distribution of assets in a prescribed manner following his or her death.
A will should designate an executor
An important part of putting together a valid legal will can include naming an executor of your estate. This is the person you choose in your will to administer your estate. After you die, the executor you name will be appointed by the Arkansas probate court to handle your estate. The executor will have the legal authority to carry out your wishes as stated in your will.
Update your will regularly
On the one hand, wills do not expire. They are good for as long as they are needed. However, it is not a good idea to put your last will and testament in a lockbox and forget about it. Circumstances change, and some of those changes can affect the provisions of your will. For example, any of the following can result in a need to modify your will or else risk that your wishes will not be met:
- The births of children or grandchildren who had not yet been born when you signed the original will
- Children who were minors when the will was prepared, but who are now adults
- The disposition or acquisition of assets
Review your will about every 4-5 years, or as often as needed, and check each provision to make sure it still reflects your wishes.
Do not let someone else determine how your assets are distributed after your death. Contact Estate Planners of Arkansas today for a free consultation.