Create a will to ensure your wishes are honored
February 2, 2007
Our family experienced a death this past holiday season, and much to everyone’s chagrin, there was no will.
The family member had cancelled his life insurance policy just months before taking his life, having been misinformed that life insurance doesn’t cover suicidal death. Most states have a one- to two-year waiting period during which suicidal death is not be covered by the policy. He had owned the policy for more than 20 years.
To make a long story short, two young people lost their father and were left in a very tough financial situation.
No one enjoys thinking about what will happen to his or her family and property if he or she were to die due to a sudden accident or other causes.
Are you prepared? Do you have a will? Do you have life insurance that will meet the financial obligations and needs of your loved ones?
Maybe you believe that your property will pass on to heirs under state law in a manner you would like. Or maybe you’ve just never gotten around to making specific legal arrangements to protect your survivors.
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Or perhaps you have another reason, such as believing that your assets are not large enough to warrant planning, or thinking that estate planning is only for older adults. Maybe you have concerns about the costs of preparing wills and important documents, or are uncomfortable discussing end-of-life issues with family members.
Whatever your reasons for not doing it, don’t delay any longer in developing a plan of action that includes preparing a will and reviewing your life insurance needs. End of life planning may be the best gift you can give your family this year.
What are the elements that must be present in a valid will?
- Age requirement. You must be of legal age in your state to make a will.
- Sound mind. This means that the person knows that he or she is making the will, how much property he or she has, and the names of the descendents or relatives who would share in the estate.
- Intention to transfer property. The will must have a substantive provision to dispose of property and indicate that this is your final word on what happens to the property.
- Written. Wills usually must be written and witnessed.
- Properly signed. A will must be voluntarily signed by the will maker unless circumstances prevent it, in which case other provisions can be made.
- Properly witnessed. In most states, the signing of a formal will must be witnessed by at least two adults who understand that they are witnessing and are competent to testify in court. In most states witnesses should not be receiving anything in your will.
- Properly executed. A statement attesting that this is your will, the date and place of signing, the fact that it is signed before two witnesses and, preferably, a notary, combine to create a self-proving will.
Need an attorney?
You may wonder if an individual can write a valid will without the aid of an attorney?
In many states you can write and sign a will in your own handwriting. If it is typed, then you must sign it in the presence of two witnesses and, preferably, a notary. Some conclude that this do-it-yourself method may be simpler to use and lower in cost than a private attorney. Disadvantages of this method include the fact that these wills are frequently ambiguous or defective, which can cause delays, more expense or litigation.
The best suggestion is to consult with an attorney to have your will reviewed. Look for one who specializes in estate planning or elder law. To find an attorney:
- Ask people you know if they can refer you to a good attorney. Friends, local business owners or professionals such as accountants, financial planners or bankers may be able to recommend attorneys who specialize in estate planning.
- Ask for referrals from lawyers. Most lawyers specialize in several areas of law and if the lawyer you contact doesn’t handle estate planning, ask for a referral to someone who does.
- Another way to locate an attorney is to find members of the American and state bar associations on the American Bar Association Web site, http://www.abanet.org/lawyerlocator/searchlawyer.html or the Colorado Bar Association Web site http://www.cobar.org/directory/index.cfm.
(Revised from an article written by Jacque Miller, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Larimer County)
For more information, contact Elisa Shackelton at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 539 Barclay, 824-9180.