Including someone in your will is a powerful token of your love and appreciation for them. It is also a way to extend your presence into their life even after you die. Making key decisions now, and taking control over the things that matter most to you, can ensure that your legacy lives on and can ease your loved ones’ pain following your passing. In particular, with the help of  a skilled attorney, you can devise strategies on how to pass over properties and other assets to your heirs in your will.

What Counts as a Will?

While each state has their own, varying probate laws, as well as complicated verification procedures, a will is legally binding even if it was written in a notebook. There are, however, some important qualifications the testator, or the maker of the will, has to have in order for the will to be valid. The testator has to be no younger than 18, have enough of a cognitive capacity to understand the meaning of signing a will, as well as the nature of their own relationship to the beneficiaries named in the will. The will also has to explicitly indicate that it is a will and be signed in presence of witnesses – two in most states, and three in some. Most wills will have to go through probate court to be enacted, unless they are accompanied by various qualifying documents, which a knowledgeable attorney can help compile. An executor, or the person distributing the assets named in the will, must be identified as well, or else an administrator is appointed by the local court.

Types of Wills

To streamline the process of distributing their wealth after their passing, many choose to draft and sign a will. A simple will is very basic, and may cover instructions on the distribution of titled assets and properties, as well as the assignment of guardians for minors. Among the more complex wills are joint, mutual and reciprocal wills for couples. These conditional wills spell out the potential courses of action in the event of death of one or both of the spouses. While the joint and mutual wills are irrevocable and are not subject to change after the one of the signees passes away, mirror wills recognize the agency of each spouse and provide greater flexibility to each of the signing spouses. Another advantageous form of a complex will is a pour-over will, which directs any remaining assets or funds into a pre-existing trust.

Spoken wills, or wills spoken in front of witnesses, are rare and are recognized in very few states. Much like a deathbed will, they function as an emergency measure and are often overwritten by courts.

Why Choose an Estate Attorney to Help With Your Will?

While anyone can write their own will, it is difficult to be aware of every minute detail of your local legislature. Failure to comply with your state’s probate laws may result not only in unnecessary fees but in some severe cases, in unintentional disinheritance. Hiring a professional estate attorney will aid you in avoiding or reducing the stress of probate proceedings, and will also enable you to determine your legacy after your passing and continue to take care of those you love. An attorney can also continue to make sure your will is up to date and accounts for all the most recent changes in your local inheritance law. That way, when your estate is released to your heirs, they don’t have to incur draconian fees and can actually claim ownership over these assets. In cases of family disputes over the distribution of wealth in a will, an attorney can also serve as an unbiased executor.