The primary purposes are to provide for distribution of your property after death, and to designate a personal representative to see that your wishes are carried out. A will may also be used to appoint a guardian for minor children.


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Must I have a will?

There is no legal requirement that you have a will, or use any estate planning device.

What happens if I die without a will?
Property held in joint tenancy will pass directly to the co-owner(s). Life insurance proceeds and pension benefits will go to the named beneficiary. The personal representative will pay debts and taxes, and distribute the balance of your estate.

What are the requirements of a valid will?

There are three types of wills. Each type of will is equally valid.
1. A handwritten will must be dated, and signed at the end.
2. A formal will can be typewritten. It must be signed, and witnessed by at least two people who also sign. A beneficiary under the will should never be a witness to its signing.
3. A statutory will is a form. It is relatively simple to use, but allows limited choices. The form is available in the Planning for Your Peace of Mind publication that is available from your state legislator at no cost.

How would my property be divided under the terms of a statutory will?
You may leave up to two cash gifts to people or charities. You could write a list, separate from your will, of personal and household items, naming whom you wished to receive each item. All the rest of your property would go to your spouse; if your spouse died before you, all the property would be divided equally among your children.

Which type of will should I choose?
That depends on the size of your estate and your wishes concerning distribution of your property.
For example, a statutory will is inappropriate if your estate is large enough to merit tax planning and the use of trusts, or if you do not want your children to get equal shares of your property. In such cases, it is usually helpful to consult with a lawyer.