Personal Finance

An introduction to wills

Wills are legal documents, the most basic form of estate documents. Wills took birth in medieval England, as a set of basic directives to a court on how a person – now dead – wanted to distribute his/her property or money.

Generally a will features directions, as entered according to the instructions of the deceased person, on who he/she is, his/her right to decide on whom to bequeath the property/money, and a description on the property itself.

Though it is pretty simple to draft a will, its implications and legal validity is enormous. It is recommended to have the will prepared by an estate planning attorney. But an estate planning attorney is not a necessity always. A will can be prepared without the help of an attorney as well. Numerous courts have in fact had accepted hand written wills prepared sans support from any legal expert. These days, various softwares are available these days that helps to prepare a will without any hassle. Some states even brook oral wills; but it is always safe to have a formal will. It is safe.

A will, after drafting, should be signed in front of witnesses, at the same time adhering to certain formalities as mandated by the law. It is also possible to amend the will at a later stage. Such an amendment is called codicil and the procedures are as mentioned in the previous sentence.

While it is easy to draft a will, it has its share of disadvantages as well. Legally, a will is just a directive to the court of law. It is open for contesting. And, once it is entered into court room, it becomes a public record, annulling all its private elements. Subsequently, if the deceased person’s relatives, friends or associates, after knowing about the person’s death, decide to challenge the will with an eye on a share of the property, the heirs may be forced to fight the case to retain the wealth bequeathed to them by the will.

Wills can be declared invalid in certain conditions such as,

  • Will has been executed improperly.
  • The grantor wasn’t mentally sound or wasn’t in a state to realize what he/she was doing when preparing the will.
  • Or when the will had been made by undue persuasion from other person or under coercion.

If the court finds that some will is invalid, it assumes as though the person had died without leaving behind a will.

Each and every will, unlike living trusts, should go through a probate process. It is the process by which a will is presented before a court by an attorney. But probate can be expensive and time consuming.

An important point one should note is that a will springs to effect only after the death of the person concerned. It is just nothing more than a paper when the person is actually alive. Also, it should be kept in mind that wills does no help as far as estate taxes are concerned.

How the final draft of a will should be, it all depends on one’s family situations. If one wishes to preserve his/her wealth for future generations, then the will should incorporate advanced techniques for estate planning as well.

As mentioned earlier, a will could be prepared without much of an outside help. But it is always wise to seek the help of a competent legal expert. Such a consulting prevents many a pitfall that could invariably creep in to the will if prepared otherwise. It is always better to avoid complexities that could affect a hassle free transfer of assets to legal descendants.