What Is A Will?
A will is a document meeting certain formal requirements by which an individual provides for the disposition or his or her assets after death.
Who May Make a Will?
In Connecticut, anyone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind can make a will.
How is a Will Made?
Because a will is such an important document, certain formalities must be observed in the preparation and signing of a valid will. Only a document which satisfies all of the requirements imposed by law can be treated as an effective will:
- A will executed in Connecticut must be in writing.
- It must be signed by the person making the will.
- It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who must sign in the presence of the person making the will.
Is a Lawyer Necessary?
The law does not require that Wills be written by a lawyer. However, the writing of a will is so important that it should be done by a professional. Only lawyers have the training and experience needed to advise clients on the subject, to make sure that each client’s objectives are taken into account in the context of his or her family, and to draft a Will that expresses the client’s wishes in language that is legally clear and free from ambiguity.
How Long is a Will Good for?
A Will stays in effect until it is revoked. A subsequent marriage, divorce or dissolution of marriage, birth or adoption of a minor child will revoke a Will unless a provision is made to cover such an occurrence. Of course, an individual can revoke his or her Will at any time. Your will should be reviewed at least once every five years.
Can a Will Be Changed?
A Will can be changed at any time provided all the formal requirements are observed. This can be done either by another document called a codicil or by a new Will. A Will should be changed whenever it no longer meets an individual’s needs for any reason, including a change in family circumstances or change in assets, and should be reviewed periodically also on account of changes in the law.
Does a will Increase Probate Expenses and Taxes?
Probate court fees are based on the size of an estate, whether there is a Will or not. Assets owned by a decedent are subject to probate court jurisdiction whether or not there is a Will. A carefully drawn Will will often result in tax savings and may also result in a reduction of administration expenses such as premiums on security bonds.
Is Jointly Owned Property a Substitute for a Will?
When most people refer to jointly owned assets they mean assets held by two or more people, usually husband and wife, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Under this arrangement,when one of the joint owners dies, title to the asset automatically passes to the survivor. While this arrangement may be useful in some circumstances, it should not be considered as a substitute for a Will.
Joint ownership is a rigid arrangement. There are tax consequences to both the creation and termination of joint ownership. It does not eliminate estate or succession tax problems, and only creates new problems, especially if the order of deaths is different than that contemplated when the joint ownership was created.
What Happens When There is no Will?
With a Will an individual directs the distribution of his or her assets after death. With the limited exception of a surviving spouse being able to elect to receive a specific share prescribed by law, a person may, by Will, provide for any distribution he or she desires. When their is no Will, the law establishes how a person’s estate will be distributed. The distribution imposed by law cannot and does not take into account the individual’s particular desires or the special circumstances which may exist in his or her family.
This can result in an individual’s estate being distributed in a way he or she did not foresee or would not have wanted. To give but one example, a man with a wife and small children might assume that if he died, everything he owned would go to his wife; yet, without a Will, depending on the size of his estate, his wife might receive something more than one-half, with the balance being held by a guardian for the children.
With a Will an individual can provide for the particular needs of his or her family, needs that he or she knows first hand, but which the rigid formula of distribution set by law cannot consider, whether it be a child who needs special care, an aging parent or other special circumstances that exist in most families. There are ways of meeting these needs through a carefully drawn Will, but when there is no Will, such special needs will go unanswered.
With a Will the surviving parent of a minor child may appoint as guardian of the child, a person in whom the parent has confidence and trust. When there is no Will, the Probate Court will act alone to appoint the guardian.
Only with a Will can an individual select the Executor who will be entrusted with settling his or her estate and carrying out the particular distribution called for in the Will. Often a family member or trusted advisor is chosen.
When there is no Will the Probate court will appoint someone to administer the estate and carry out the mandated distribution. Once again, the individual has no choice, and costs can be higher. Further, a Will can authorize the Executor to do necessary things in settling the estate without seeking the prior approval of the Probate Court.
With a Will, particularly when the Will is drafted in conjunction with a well thought out overall estate plan, a person can, in addition to meeting the needs of his or her family, take advantage of the many ways to reduce expenses and taxes and thus avoid unnecessary shrinkage of the estate. When there is no Will these opportunities to preserve assets are lost.
A Will is a necessity to anyone who wants to direct the passing of his or her assets at death, who wants to name an Executor to manage it, and who wants to keep taxes and expenses to a minimum.
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