Estates and Wills

How Much Do You Know About a Last Will And Testament?


When you think of “probate” what is the first thing that comes to mind?  It is probably your last will and testament (or maybe the fact that you don’t have one!).  Here are some questions to test your knowledge about a last will and testament.


Does your will govern all of your property?

Usually not, particularly for married couples or for those with an adult child living close by who helps them out.  Many people in these situations hold some of their assets jointly with right of survivorship or in the name of a trust.  These kinds of assets are governed by what the deed, account, or trust instrument says is to happen upon your death.  Even if your will mentions these types of property specifically, it will have no effect.  For example, if your will says you want your house to go to your daughter, but you put your son’s name on the deed with you (as joint tenants with right of survivorship), then the direction in your will has no effect.  The same thing is true with investment accounts; if you make your daughter who lives in town a co-owner of your investment account but expect it to go in equal shares to her and her 2 brothers under your will.  In this situation, your will cannot make the account pass as you wish because your daughter will become the sole owner of the entire account at your death.


Do I even need a will?

Yes, even if you think that there are no assets to be governed by your will — and sometimes it is good advice to plan your affairs that way, with everything in a trust, or jointly owned.  However, there may often be items that get missed which need to be handled by your will.  If that happens, assets may not pass as you would like, and even if they do, there may be significant additional cost, delay, and publicity that could easily have been avoided by a valid, up-to-date, and fairly simple will.


Can I write my own will?

There is no requirement that a will has to be prepared by a lawyer to be valid.  However, an attorney can make sure that your will contains several important provisions that most people may not know to include.  In addition, there are legal formalities that should be observed when you sign your will so that it will be accepted without question by the Probate Court.


How did you do on these questions?  Don’t worry, just watch this space in future editions of Senior Life and you’ll learn a lot more about these issues.



Stephen is a sole practitioner, practicing in the areas of wills and trusts, probate, and estate planning.  He has degrees from Washington & Lee University, the University of Virginia School of Law, and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.  He lives in Birmingham with his wife and three daughters.  You may contact Stephen at (205) 868-1414.

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