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What is a will?

Last will definition: A last will and testament is a legal document that lets you, the testator (the person making the will), designate individuals or charities to receive your property and possessions when you pass away. These individuals and charities are commonly referred to as beneficiaries in your last will. A last will also allows you to name a guardian to care for minor children. The main purpose of a will is to ensure that the testator's wishes, and not the default laws of the state, will be followed upon the testator's death.

Reasons to have a last will and testament

Appoint Someone to Ensure Beneficiaries Receive Their Inheritance by Making a Will

Appoint someone to settle your affairs.

This person will also ensure that your beneficiaries receive their inheritance.

Create a Will - Choose Who Will Receive Your Property

Choose who will receive your property.

Specify how you'd like to transfer your property to your heirs.

Legal Guardian - Name a Legal Guardian for Your Children in Your Last Will

Decide who you want to raise your kids.

Name the right legal guardians for your children if you and your spouse can't be there.

What if I die without a will?

Dying without making a will means you'll have no say over who receives your property. State laws will decide. In some states, only 1/2 of one's assets go to the surviving spouse. Depending on your situation, the rest would go to your children, parents or close relatives.

If you have minor children, a judge will decide who cares for them, and the situation may not be ideal.

Should I get a living trust instead?

Depending on where you live and the size of your estate, a living trust could be a more efficient way to distribute your assets. You can avoid going through the time and expense of a probate proceeding, in which a court reviews your will, appoints your executor and orders the distribution of your property.

A living trust requires more work than a last will. You must transfer your assets into the name of the trust after its creation. This process is often called trust funding.

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Common Questions

Are LegalZoom Last Wills state-specific?
Yes. Our team of experienced attorneys have designed the LegalZoom Last Will to meet the specific laws and requirements of each U.S. state.
What makes a will legally binding?
Last Wills will be not admitted by a court unless the following criteria are met:
  • You must be of sound mind.
  • You must be acting of your own free will without undue influence or duress from others.
  • The will must be signed and witnessed according to the applicable laws of your state.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process through which the court decides how an estate will be divided. The court will look to your last will to decide how to distribute your property and will follow the will, unless it is successfully contested by your heirs.

Generally, if an estate includes real property, a formal probate action is required. However, in many states, if the estate is of minimal value or consists solely of personal property, probate is not required and other legal remedies are available.
Can I disinherit someone?
You can leave anyone out of your last will, subject to certain limitations. Many laws have been enacted to protect spouses and minor children. Be sure to read the section "Marriage, Divorce, and Children" in the "Wills Law Library" for more information.

If you wish to disinherit one of your children or to give one child less than another, you should clearly state that intention in your last will.
Can I change or revoke my will after I make it?
You can revoke a last will any time before death by making a new last will that states that all prior last wills are no longer valid. To revoke a last will without making a new one, all you have to do is intentionally tear it up, deface it, burn it, or destroy it. If this is done accidentally, the last will is not revoked.

What happens if you make a new last will (which revokes all prior last wills) and then decide that you like your old last will better? You need to make an entirely new last will that replaces the new one and mimics the old one. The old last will is invalid and cannot be revived after it has been revoked.

One way to make changes to a last will, without revoking it entirely, is to make a codicil, which is an amendment to a last will. However, a codicil must be signed and witnessed just like a last will, so it may be easier to make an entirely new last will.

Be sure not to make changes to your last will after it has been witnessed and signed. If you cross out a person's name or add clauses to a last will that has already been signed, you risk making the whole last will invalid.
What should I do with my last will after I sign it?
After you sign your last will, you should keep it in a safe, easily accessible place. Be sure that the person whom you have appointed as your executor knows exactly where you stored your last will. You do not have to file it with the court or place it in the public record. However, some courts may permit you to deposit your last will with them, depending on how busy or crowded they are.
What happens to my debts after I die?
The general rule is that all debts must be paid before any assets are distributed. Your outstanding credit card balances, for instance, are generally paid before any money or gifts are distributed to your heirs.

An exception to this general rule is for "secured debts," that is, debts that allow the lender to take possession of a specific piece of property if the debt is not repaid. Examples of such secured debts are mortgages or auto loans. If a piece of property is collateral for a secured debt, that property can be distributed, but the debt will generally go with it. For instance, say you have a car worth $10,000 and a loan on the car of $5,000. You can leave the car to someone in your will, but it will be that person's obligation to pay off the loan.

What happens if you owe more than you own? In general, people cannot inherit another person's debts. If there is not enough cash in the estate to pay debts, all property of the estate will be sold to pay the debts and no one will inherit anything. For example, if someone dies owing $12,000 in credit card debt, but has cash and property worth only $10,000, the property will be sold and the $10,000 will be paid to the credit card issuer.

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This public forum is not intended to provide legal advice and is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Unless specifically indicated, the content is not drafted, supported, or vetted by LegalZoom. It is simply a place for customers to help customers. If you need legal advice, LegalZoom can connect you to a licensed and independent attorney. If you are providing answers, please do not provide legal advice if you are not qualified or licensed to do so.

Last Will and Testament - Make a Will Online with LegalZoom

A last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to communicate your wishes after death, making things easier for your loved ones. Making a last will as part of your estate plan ensures what you leave behind will be taken care of according to your wishes, including the care of your children. When you make a will, you can appoint someone to settle your affairs. The person you appoint will ensure that your beneficiaries receive their inheritance. Wills also allow you to choose who will receive your property and how you would like to transfer property to your heirs. Choosing the guardians of your children is another important function of a last will. When creating a will, you can decide who you want to raise your kids if they are still minors when you pass away. LegalZoom's last will and testament service provides you with a personalized legal document specific to your state that includes advanced provisions to safeguard your family. In addition to lifetime customer support, LegalZoom's online last will service is backed by a $50,000 Peace of Mind Guarantee. Each state has different requirements for what constitutes a legal last will and testament, so it's important that your last will is drafted properly. Ensure your loved ones will be protected by creating a last will and testament today through LegalZoom. 

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