What is a Last Will and Testament?
You probably are no doubt aware of the term “Last Will and Testament.” Everyone is, right? Most people know the name of the document, even if they aren’t aware of exactly what goes into it. A simple explanation of a Last Will and Testament is that it is a legal document administering all of your assets (gifts, charitable donations, etc.) to individuals and organizations whom you choose to receive such items upon your death. However, it is a much more complex document than simply writing out where and to whom you want your assets to go.
A valid Last Will and Testament has a clause specifying that the new Will you have created invalidates any previous Last Will and Testaments. It also mentions that the Testator (the person making the Will) designates his or her assets (e.g. house, jewellery, everything in his/her name) to go to specific individuals of his/her choosing and names those individuals. Specific gifts to various individuals and funds for charitable donations may be listed as well. The issue of Guardianship for minor children is a vital point in any Last Will and Testament. Finally, to render the Will valid, the Testator must follow instructions and properly sign and date the Will in the correct place. The independent witnesses should follow the Testator’s example and also sign and witness in the correct place.
A Will should not be confused with a Living Will document. A Living Will is a legal document relating to your health and well-being while you are alive. If something happens to you and you have a Living Will in place, that document ensures that you are properly looked after in accordance to your wishes. A Power of Attorney, likewise, is another legal document people sometimes confuse with a Last Will and Testament. A Power of Attorney document ensures that while you are alive, another person that you have appointed (your “attorney”) can take care of your financial assets or real estate. Neither of these two documents should be confused with a Last Will and Testament, which comes into effect only upon death. Once you create your Will, you should consider completing your Estate Plan by creating a Power of Attorney and a Living Will. Going back to the original topic at hand, what is a Will?
Many adults often put off writing their Last Will and Testament and recent statistics suggest that at least 50% of adults don’t have a Will in place. That means that if something happens to you (e.g. you end up in a common car accident) all of your assets and items (e.g. your house, car, jewellery, funds, nice cottage by the lake), could be inherited by the wrong people. You may argue that this type of scenario will not happen to you as you have a simple estate and not many assets, but the reality is that the courts may decide where your assets end up going if you have not created your Will.