What is A Will and Why Have One?

A will is one of the most important legal documents you can create as part of your estate plan. It enables you to specify the distribution of your assets upon your death. By naming guardians for any dependents or minor children, you can designate who will inherit your property and avoid the court making that decision. This blog post will explain what a will is, the different types of wills, and why it’s so important to have one in place, especially for Minnesota residents.

What Exactly is a Will?

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that communicates your wishes regarding what happens to your property and assets when you die. It also allows you to name guardians for any dependent minor children.

The person making the will is called the testator. The will must be signed by the testator in front of two adult witnesses to be considered legally valid. It should also be notarized for extra legal protection.

A will goes into effect only after the testator’s death. As long as the testator is alive, they can modify or revoke the will at any time.

What a Will Covers

Your will can distribute nearly any asset you own or control, as long as joint tenancy or beneficiary designations do not supersede a will. Assets that typically flow through a will include:

  • Financial accounts – Bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. without a POD beneficiary
  • Real estate – Primary home or vacation properties not held in joint tenancy
  • Vehicles – Cars, RVs, boats without a transfer-on-death designation
  • Personal property – Jewelry, collectibles, furniture, etc.
  • Business interests – Privately owned companies you control or own
  • Intellectual property – Copyrights, patents, royalties, etc.

Assets like life insurance and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries will go directly to those beneficiaries and do not flow through your will.

Your will should cover all of your significant assets that would otherwise be subject to Minnesota probate law. Leaving real estate out of your will, for example, usually forces it to go through probate.

Why You Need a Will in Your Estate Plan

There are several important reasons why every adult should have a will, regardless of your age or net worth:

  • Avoid intestacy: Dying without a will means your estate will be subject to state intestacy laws. This could result in your property being distributed to distant relatives you hardly know rather than people you intended to provide for.
  • Select guardians: Having minor children means you must designate legal guardians in a will. Otherwise, the court will make this decision for you.
  • Choose an executor: Your will allows you to select a trusted person to act as executor of your estate. They will be responsible for submitting the will to probate and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.
  • Distribute assets: Using a will, you can specify who inherits your property, investments, and other assets. You can split your estate between multiple beneficiaries.
  • Create trusts: Certain types of testamentary trusts can be created through directives in your will. These trusts can provide long-term care for beneficiaries after you pass away.
  • Avoid disputes: A clear and legally valid will makes your wishes known and can help avoid potential disputes between family members.

Without a will in place, you lose control over what happens to your assets and loved ones after you’re gone. Don’t take this risk – consult an estate planning attorney to create a customized will for your needs.

Different Types of Wills

There are several varieties of wills you can create as part of your Minnesota estate plan:

  • Simple will: This covers the basic distribution of assets and naming of an executor. It’s easy to create but lacks complex directives.
  • Testamentary trust will: This will creates a trust that takes effect after you pass away and distributes assets over time to beneficiaries.
  • Joint will: A single will covering two individuals, such as a married couple. It can dictate asset distribution after both spouses pass away.
  • Holographic will: A handwritten will that is valid in some states without witnesses. Less common and potentially risky.
  • Nuncupative will: An oral will stated in front of witnesses, sometimes allowed in special circumstances.

The type of will appropriate for you depends on your personal situation. An attorney can explain the options and create a customized will tailored to your needs. Simple wills work for some, while others require more complex estate planning strategies. An experienced will lawyer can help determine what type of will is best for you.

How to Prepare a Will

Preparing a legally valid will in Minnesota involves several steps:

  • List your assets – Inventory all significant assets like real estate, financial accounts, business interests, vehicles, etc. that you will be distributing through the will.
  • Choose beneficiaries – Decide who should inherit each asset and what percentage each person gets. Name specific alternative beneficiaries in case any beneficiaries die before you.
  • Pick an executor – Select a competent executor to administrate your estate and file your will with probate court after your death. Name alternative executors as backups.
  • Choose guardians – If you have minor children or dependents, pick appropriate short-term and long-term guardians. Outline any wishes for caring for your dependents.
  • Draft the will – Compose your will using your decisions from the previous steps. You can draft it yourself or work with an estate planning attorney to ensure your will is legally sound.
  • Sign with witnesses – Per Minnesota law, you must sign your testamentary will in front of two adult witnesses, who must also sign and date the will.
  • Consider a notary – While not required in Minnesota, getting your signature and those of the witnesses notarized adds an extra layer of legitimacy.
  • Store properly – Keep the signed original will in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box protected from damage. Give copies to your executor and attorney.

Choosing an Executor

You will need to assign an executor in your will – the person who oversees carrying out your distribution wishes. Choosing a competent executor is one of the most important decisions you can make in your will.

Ideally, pick someone who is organized, trustworthy, and adept with financial and legal matters. Candidates might include family members, friends, business associates, attorneys, or corporate fiduciaries like trust companies.

The probate court will supervise your executor to ensure they execute your wishes properly. Consider choosing a younger person who is likely to outlive you, as well as naming alternative executors in case your first choice dies before you or is unable to serve.

Ready to Create Your Minnesota Will?

A last will and testament allows you to make your wishes clear and prevent unnecessary disputes over your estate. It gives you control over who inherits your property, who will care for your kids, and how assets are distributed after you’re gone. Don’t wait until it’s too late – get in touch with a St. Paul estate planning attorney to have a will made today.

Planning for the future through proper will execution provides peace of mind for both you and your family. Don’t leave things to chance and state law – make sure your assets are inherited as you desire.