What is a Last Will and Testament and What Does it Do?

Market Memo – Planning Article

March 2023 – By Tom Rueger, J.D., CFP®

What is a Will and what does it do? A Will is a legally binding written document that sets out specific desires regarding the distribution of property and the care of minor children. It allows a person to be very specific about who gets (or doesn’t get) which asset(s) and how much of it they get. Assets or minor children can be kept out of the hands of people that you do not want to have them. You can also appoint someone you trust to oversee the process of distributing your assets.

Why is it referred to as a Last Will and Testament? Using the word “Last” is a way to emphasize that the specific document is the most recent Will since the most recent Will is the one that controls or will be followed. The word “Testament” originates from the Latin word “Testis” which means to witness. So a “Testament” is giving witness to or testifying to the authenticity of a fact. Simply put, a Last Will and Testament is meant to be the controlling testimony of the person for whom the Will is drafted.

What does a Will not do? Wills do not control the distribution of any assets where there is a designated beneficiary, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, transfer on death designations, or joint tenancies.

What are the benefits of having a Will? Without a Will or some other type of Estate Plan, decisions regarding assets and minor children will be made by a court or other official. Decisions will usually be made according to some predetermined formula and probably will not be what is desired. Simply put, if you die without a Will or some other type of Estate Plan, your desires regarding how your assets are distributed or who will care for your minor children may not happen. A Will can also help your heirs to receive your assets faster and with less cost.

How do I get started? The best and most sensible way to get started is to contact an Estate Planning attorney to guide you through the process. There are many technicalities and potential pitfalls that could invalidate a Will, some of which vary from state to state. If not done properly, the entire Will can be invalid resulting in none of the intentions being followed. In addition, a Will is just one part of an effective and comprehensive estate plan.

What do I do once the Will is done? It is important to note that the Will (or any Estate Planning document) needs to be in a place where it can be easily found and others need to know where that place is. It is best to make copies of the Will, indicate that they are copies, and state on them where the original is located. It is also important to destroy any previous Will or estate planning documents once updated.

If you would like to know more about Estate Planning or need help finding a qualified attorney, please contact your Wealth Advisor and they can assist you.

This material is for informational purposes only. It is not a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any securities.  Vantage Financial is not a tax advisor or estate planning attorney; please consult your tax advisor or estate planning attorney prior to making any decisions.  Vantage Financial is an Investment Advisory Firm registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).  SEC registration does not imply any particular level of skill or expertise.