Special words are used by lawyers and judges to describe the estate-planning process and the way it is supervised by judges. To see how estate planning works you need to understand the basic terms and concepts.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document signed by you in the presence of witnesses. It declares how you want your property to be distributed after your death. A will has no legal effect until its validity has been proven through a process called probate. Most important, a will deals only with a specific kind of property called your probate property. Any addition to a will made after it has been signed is called a codicil. It is usually better to simply revise an entire will rather than to try to modify it with a codicil. Revising the document helps avoid the confusion and problems that can occur if the will and the codicil are inconsistent.
Who are the players?
All wills involve four different categories of people: a testator, an executor, witnesses, and beneficiaries.
A testator is the person who makes a will. In the past, prior to the adoption of gender-neutral language in the law, a woman who made a will was called a testatrix. Now, however, women and men are both called testators. After testators have died, they may be called decedents.
An executor (in some states called a personal representative) is the person responsible for collecting a decedent’s property, paying creditors, paying expenses of administration, paying any taxes dues, and distributing the decedent’s property to the persons who are legally entitles to it. Your executor can be someone you name in your will, or if you do not have a will or fail to name an executor, someone appointed by the court.
Witnesses are adults who sign your will to verify that they actually saw you put your signature on it. Witnesses should now be people who will receive any of your property under the terms of your will. It is also best that witnesses not be relatives by blood or marriage. Witnesses should include their contact information (i.e. addresses and phone numbers) when they sign.
Beneficiaries are the people who will receive your property under the terms of your will or under the terms of documents such as insurance policies or retirement accounts. Beneficiaries also may be called heirs if they are relatives who would be entitled to inherit your property if you did not have a will. Beneficiaries are sometimes called devisees if they do not qualify as heirs.
You don’t need a lawyer to write a will – you can do it yourself. Creating an estate plan and writing your own will is easy. Robert C. Waters created a step-by-step guide for anyone who wants to make sure their assets and belongings are passed on according to their wishes. Follow the instructions found in Write Your Legal Will in 3 Easy Steps by Robert C. Waters (USA) and secure your loved one’s future.