Make a Last Will and Testament

A will, or last will and testament, is a simple document (usually) that spells out what a person wants done when they die. This “last will and testament,” as it is formally known, includes (but is not limited to) how people want their possessions distributed.

What is Included in a Will?

Essentially, a last will and testament designates how a person’s property will be distributed at the time of his/her death. Without a will the state will determine the distribution of a person’s wealth according to laws that may poorly serve the individual’s preferences.

States have specific laws to take into account, so some research needs to be made into local regulations. For this reason, although some people make wills on their own, I would recommend using a lawyer in most cases.

For example, it is common that a will may not leave out a spouse or even children altogether. It is important to meet the legal standards of your state to preserve the integrity of the last will and testament.

An important part of a will can be designating who will serve as a guardian for dependent children. It is not uncommon for a couple to die together, as in an automobile accident. Without this being determined ahead of time this will be a court determined decision.

Another important part of a last will and testament is the naming of an administrator of the will, called an executor. At least generally speaking, no one can have the authority to manage a person’s estate without being so named in a will.

Legal Requirements of a Will

Since I live in the United States of America, what I write here, and elsewhere for that matter, reflects our laws. If you live in another country you will want to consider your own national traditions and legal requirements.

1. A last will and testament must be written. Just because someone tells you they want you to have some possession doesn’t count for much. I have seen many situations where several members of the same family argued that their mother or father wanted them to have the same particular item.

2. A last will and testament must be witnessed. Usually two witnesses, but sometimes three, are required and their signatures must attest to your will being authentic.

Each state has legal requirements about qualifications for these witnesses, so it is important to check on the laws in your particular state. For example, witnesses should not be persons included in the will or they may not be able to receive that inheritance.

3. In addition, the author (called the “testator”) must sign the last will and testament. This signature must come at the end of the will, after all stipulations in the will.

4. Finally, a last will and testament must be written at a time when people are “of sound mind.” In other words before dementia, stroke or some other debilitating factor impairs their judgment. Another factor that is required is that there is no “undue influence,” either by force or emotional pressure.

5. There are other potential requirements that vary by state, which is another reason to get appropriate legal assistance. For example, children may often be excluded from a will, but often spouses may not. It is important to have the specific regulations imposed by your state.

What Happens If there Is No Will?

If death occurs when there is no last will and testament (this is called “intestate”), an estate can end up in probate court. In this case whatever is left over after court costs will be distributed according to the state’s probate law. Consequences vary from state to state, but is more likely than not to be different from what the deceased might prefer.

One serious problem that occurs in many states is that without a last will and testament some states require property to be divided between spouse and children, often with half or nearly half going to the children. This could result in the surviving spouse having to sell his/her home to distribute these inheritances.

The greatest tragedy that occurs in most cases has to do with family relationships. Over the years I have watched any number of families disrupted seriously in ways that were never fully repaired. This is true even when an individual clearly expresses their wishes if it is not in a legal format. Not everyone will respect others’ wishes, even their own parents.


With just a little effort you can have a last will and testament that provides for your needs far better than what the state’s generic plan will do for you. There are many free or nearly free resources to help.

It is better to get a last will and testament in place based on what you know now than to wait for any reason. Remember that you can easily change your will at any time.