A last will and testament is an important step in planning the distribution of your estate (real and personal property) upon your death. Vermont wills permit the testator, the person writing the will, to provide for a spouse, civil union partner, children, other loved ones, and pets after his death as well as to name a personal representative for the estate.
Not to be confused with a will, a Vermont living will, or advance directive, provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care.
Do you need a last will and testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) determine the distribution of an estate's assets. Because the outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
In addition to providing the opportunity to direct asset distribution, a Vermont last will and testament form also allows the testator to make a charitable gift, create a trust for any person, name a legal guardian for minor children, or create a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death.
The will also allows the testator to nominate a person to oversee the estate and make sure the will is properly handled. This person is called the executor.
Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person.
Once the will is proven, the executor can proceed to wrap up the estate, which includes collecting and protecting property, paying off debts, and then distributing assets.
Vermont offers a simplified probate process for estates that contain no real estate and are valued at $10,000 or less.
Intestacy: Dying without a will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. In Vermont in the absence of a will, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate even if the surviving spouse and decedent share descendants. If the decedent has descendants with someone other than the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse inherits half of the estate; a surviving spouse may also request all household goods and certain other property.
If there is no surviving spouse, descendants, or parents, other relatives, including siblings and grandparents, will inherit depending on the closeness of the relation.
Exceptions to ability to distribute property
Not all property can be distributed according to a will. Some exceptions in Vermont include the following:
- Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
- Widow’s/husband’s interest in real estate
- Share of child born after the execution of a will
Form a last will in Vermont
The basic requirements for a Vermont last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in his presence, by his express direction.
- Witnesses: A Vermont will must be signed by at least two witnesses, who should not also be beneficiaries in the will, in the presence of the testator and of each other.
- Writing: A Vermont will must be in writing.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to anyone.
Other recognized wills in Vermont
Vermont recognizes nuncupative (oral) wills under certain circumstances.
Changing a Vermont last will and testament
A Vermont will may be changed at any time by codicil, or an amendment, which must be executed in the same way as a will.
Revoking a Vermont last will and testament
The revocation of a Vermont will can be accomplished by executing a subsequent will or other writing or by “burning, tearing, canceling, or obliterating” the document, done by either the testator or by someone else at his express direction in his conscious presence with the intention of revoking it.
If you are ready to make a last will of your own, LegalZoom can help you get started in three easy steps. LegalZoom also offers other legal products to help you prepare for the future, such as a living will and power of attorney.