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Creating a bullet-proof will … the easy way

Published On: Dec 10 2013 11:17:11 AM CST
will, legal papers, generic, estate planning

iStock/IuriiSokolov

By attorney Keith Morris, Special to THELAW.TV

A will is your final word in this life. Sure, it's primary function is to legally dispose of your personal assets, but it also tells the story of your life. What you have earned, what prized possessions you've saved, and who was important in your life to share these treasures with.

When drafting a will, you'll want to cover all of your legal bases. There are several key elements to keep in mind when you set out to create a bullet-proof will.

What do you mean, bullet-proof?

So, what does bullet-proof mean? There is no such thing as an incontestable will. It simply doesn't exist. Anyone can challenge your will after you pass away, claiming that they should be inheriting part of your estate.

You can ease these challenges for your beneficiaries by properly drafting and executing your will. A will that meets this standard should have the following elements:

Type it: The laws regarding holographic, or handwritten, wills vary from state to state, but having a will that is typed is highly advisable. Holographic wills may be difficult to verify, can be hard to read, and often lack witness signatures.

Name an Executor: An Executor is the person who will be responsible for ensuring that the wishes laid out in your will are followed. Name someone you trust to act as your legal representative.

Initial each page: Check and double check that you initial every single page of your will. This will show a probate court that all pages were approved by you personally.

Signature requirements: In most states, the signatures of two witnesses are required for a will to be considered legally valid. Witnesses should NOT be named beneficiaries of your estate. Of course you, the testator, must also sign it, and the will should be notarized. These should all be done at the same time, with all signers and the notary public in the same place. Failure to meet this standard may result in a finding of improper execution of your will.

Dispose of everything: Your will should allow for the disposition of 100 percent of your assets. Everything you own, all bank accounts, all property -- real and personal, retirement accounts, investments, and businesses -- should be accounted for and designated to a beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Keep the original: A copy of a will can be probated in most states, but having the original document will make it more likely to hold up in probate court.

Safe storage: Whether you keep it in a safety deposit box or store it at home, your will should be kept securely in a fire and waterproof place. Wherever your safe place is, make sure that your beneficiaries and Executor know where it is located.

Do it the easy way

The easiest way to make sure your will stands up to legal scrutiny is to consult a probate attorney in your area. This can be as simple as opening up Google, searching "probate attorney" with your city name, and choosing a lawyer with experience and a solid reputation.

Creating a simple yet legally valid will with the aid of an attorney doesn't have to be an expensive venture. However, if you aren't able to use an attorney's services, there are other options. Online, you can find many resources to help you create a will, from websites that do the legwork for you to books that help you do it yourself.

When choosing one of these last two options, be sure to research legal requirements for wills in your state, as these laws vary widely across the U.S., as well as following the guidelines laid out above. In doing so, you can have a bullet-proof will ready in no time.

The author, Keith Morris, is a Houston-based attorney specializing in probate, estate planning, and elder law. He is co-founder of Jones Morris Klevenhagen, LLP.

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