You are probably already familiar with the concept of a will. Also known as a “last will and testament,” it is a legal document which details how you would like your property to be distributed after your passing.

The practice of writing wills dates back over 2,500 years, though it has become more refined since the ancient Greeks invented it. Essentially, a testator creates a will and appoints a personal representative who will carry out its instructions. Recipients of the testator’s assets are called beneficiaries. Probate is the judicial process whereby a will’s validity is proven in a court of law. 

If the decedent passes away without a will, they are said to have died “intestate.” In this circumstance, the court distributes the decedent’s property in accordance with local intestacy laws.

You certainly want to spare your loved ones the hassle of needless legal proceedings in the wake of your passing. But if you are estate planning, it’s not enough to simply write a document identifying which assets go to which beneficiaries. At bare minimum, comprehensive will must contain the following information.

A Will Must Contain Some Personal Information

Proving a will’s validity in court is rarely a long and drawn out process, though there are certain items which must be included so as to prevent potential issues. First and foremost, your will must contain your full name, date of birth, and home address at the time of writing. 

Make certain to include any alias you might go by, even if it is only a nickname. For example, if your name is Albert Smith, and you regularly go by “Al,” include your name as “Albert ‘Al’ Smith.” For the sake of preventing any doubt, it is wise to also include the names of your immediate family members.

T.I.M.L.W.A.T.

“This is my last will and testament.” Including these seven simple words at the beginning of a will helps to dispel any ambiguity as to what you are hoping to achieve by writing the document. Furthermore, indicating that you are “of sound mind and memory” will help underscore that you prepared the will while you were mentally competent.

Will Beneficiaries

As noted earlier, your beneficiaries are the people who will receive your property. Note that you aren’t limited to distributing your property to individuals such as friends and family members. You may also indicate any businesses or non-profit organizations you would like to bequeath property to.

It is crucial to name contingent beneficiaries as well. For example, if you wish for your sibling to inherit all your property, but they wind up passing before you do, your will can indicate that your property is to be evenly divided among all your sibling’s children.

Personal Representative

Your personal representative has an important duty: actually carrying out your last will and testament, and ensuring that all of your wishes are carried out to the letter. In addition to distributing your assets, your personal representative may pay any taxes or debts that you owe. (Note that many jurisdictions outside of Utah refer to a personal representative as an “executor.”)

A Will Helps Transfer Property & Assets

A trust can prove very helpful, but it cannot contain every type of asset you may own. If you have a medical savings account (MSA), health savings account (HSA), retirement account (401(k), IRA), cash, vehicles, or assets that are currently held outside of the United States, you can only transfer their ownership to your beneficiaries by identifying each in your will.

Here are the types of property and assets that are normally included in a will:

  • Cash
  • Bonds
  • Vehicles
  • Annuities
  • Real estate
  • Life insurance
  • Stock certificates
  • Safe deposit boxes
  • Mutual fund accounts
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Money market accounts
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Valuable personal property (jewelry, art, firearms, etc.)

Guardianship

If you have children who are still minors, then you should name the guardian(s) who will assume their care in the event of your passing. Likewise, if you care for an elderly adult or disabled individual, you should indicate whom you intend to care for them once you are no longer able to.

Signatures

As you may already have gathered, a will is an important document. It isn’t enough for you to merely sign it. In Utah, you must sign your will in front of at least two witnesses, both of whom must sign it as well. Note that a will does not require notarization in order to be enforceable in Utah.

Hire an Estate Planning Attorney to Help With Your Will and More

Your assets are too valuable to leave anything to chance. If you would like to ensure that your will covers all of your property – and specifies precisely whom you intend to inherit it – then we welcome you to contact Hillyard, Anderson & Olsen of Logan, UT today.