Having a will enables you to control where your property-both personal and real estate-goes after your death. Without out a will, your property will go to people based on your state's priority laws.

A will is just one tool that can be used to distribute your property upon death.

Is a will really necessary?

Yes. You want to make sure the people you care about receive your property. With a will, you can leave your real estate, financial assets and personal belongings to whomever you wish, even to charities.

Caution: Remember that retirement benefits, insurance policies and any bank account held in joint tenancy passes to your designated beneficiary under those policies. If you want to change the beneficiary in any of the policies, you must do so through the policy, not your will.

Do I need a lawyer to draft a will?

A lawyer can be helpful in drafting a will that meets your state's legal requirements, but you do not have to use an attorney to create a will. If you are not using an attorney, carefully review your state's laws governing wills. If you do not follow the laws, your will may be invalid.

TIP: Always follow two major rules when executing a will: first, sign the will at the end; second, sign it preferably before three witnesses-always before two-and ask them to add their names to the attestation clause at the end, along with their addresses. The people who sign as witnesses cannot also be beneficiaries in your will.

What other options do I have to distribute my property besides a will?

Wills must go through what is called probate. This can cause delays and cost money. Instead of a will, you can establish a living trust. You can also hold your assets jointly with rights of survivorship. Property held jointly passes to the survivor. You can set up your bank accounts as "payable on death" and that person will be paid any assets in the account on your death.

TIP: You may hold and distribute your property in numerous ways, but it is always best to have a will to cover any property that already has a designated beneficiary or passes outside your will.

What if I die without a will?

Dying without a will is known as "intestate." State laws, which are substantially the same, will provide for the distribution of your property, and this may not be how you want your property distributed. Generally, your surviving spouse and children receive the majority of your property.

Can I give everything to my grandchildren instead of my spouse or children?

With a will, you can give your property to whomever you want. But most states do not allow you to leave absolutely nothing to your spouse. A surviving spouse can "renounce" your will and the state will then give the spouse a share of your estate, depending on whether you have children or not. But if you die without a will, your property will go to your surviving spouse first, then to surviving children. So, if you want to make sure your grandchildren receive your property, you will need to make a valid will that complies with your state's laws.

Now that I am getting older, I have changed my mind about some of my beneficiaries in my will. How can I change my will?

You can make changes to a valid will with a "codicil." A codicil is a clause added to a will to change, confirm or explain provisions of the will. The codicil must be executed and witnessed in the same manner as the original will.

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