Welcome to the Wills section of FindLaw's Estate Planning Center, where you'll find resources covering how to prepare a will, how to amend or revoke an existing one, the benefits and limitations of wills, and more. Other topics include an overview of inheritance law, information about challenging a will, a discussion of living wills, and a list of important factors for married couples to consider.
Wills are perhaps the most common and well-known form of estate plan. A valid will allows a person to designate how his or her estate is distributed and otherwise managed upon his or her death. In most circumstances, a person who creates a will can feel secure in knowing that the will's instructions will be honored. On the other hand, a person who passes away without a will runs the risk of a court or other estate administrator making decisions that do not reflect the person's wishes and intentions. Unfortunately, the failure to create a will can lead to disputes between family members, and even to expensive lawsuits and the ruining of relationships.
One of the most important decisions that comes with creating a will is deciding on a competent and trusted executor. This is the person that will carry out the instructions contained in your will. Of course, you'll also need to create a list of beneficiaries, and it's important that you begin to learn about estate tax laws, to minimize the taxes that you and/or your heirs pay.
What Makes a Will Legally Valid?
Estate planning laws vary by state, so it's best to consult with an attorney if you have specific questions about your state's laws. Generally speaking, a person must have been of "sound mind" when he or she created the will. This means that he or she understood the effects and consequences of the will, and that he or she was not coerced or otherwise manipulated into signing it. Typically, at least one witness is required to verify the will, and it's best that this person be someone who doesn't stand to benefit from the will. Although wills are usually made in writing, oral wills can be valid, and recently, electronic wills have been upheld in some courts.
A will cannot violate state or other laws. As an example, a person cannot circumvent a state's community-property marriage laws by asserting in a will that his or her spouse is entitled to no property. Also, note that some states have passed heirship laws that require, for example, children to be listed as heirs in a decedent's will. A will that breaches heirship laws will likely not stand up in court, and the decedent may be considered intestate.
How an Attorney Can Help
An estate planning lawyer can answer your questions about wills and other estate plans. He or she can also explain applicable estate laws to you and help you to create a will that fits your needs and reflects your intentions. This section provides a link for consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.