A well-drafted will allows your beneficiaries to avoid a lengthy and expensive probate process

A will, called a last will and testament, is a written document that explains how an individual desires their property to be distributed or dealt with after their death. The individual who creates the will is called a testator (male) or a testatrix (female). The action of giving an asset (or gift) to those outlined in the will is called a bequest and the receivers of those assets are referred to as beneficiaries. A will defines who the beneficiaries are and also appoints a personal representative

A personal representative, which used to be called an executor (male) or executrix (female), has many important duties to carry out. His or her role is to follow the terms of the will, distribute assets to named beneficiaries, pay debts, and close the decedent's estate. A personal representative is a type of fiduciary.

A fiduciary is someone who handles someone else’s assets and assumes the duties that come with it. This is a somewhat broad title, which means there are different types of fiduciaries that assume certain responsibilities in different situations. Specifically, a personal representative is the fiduciary that administers the estate of another person.

A will has the ability to appoint a personal representative and establish the powers given to them. The duties of a personal representative are to carry out the terms of the will, administer estates, make sure all taxes and disbursements are made, and close the estate. Your personal representative is in charge of distributing the assets outlined in the will to the corresponding beneficiaries. This action is called disbursement.

Functions of a Will

A will has multiple different functions. It establishes the family and heirs of the testator or testatrix. Likewise, it designates assets to specific beneficiaries. A will appoints the fiduciary (or personal representative), defines the powers given to them, and also pays the debts of the testator or testatrix. It also outlines memorial requests and how to handle the remainder of the estate or property (anything that isn’t left to beneficiaries).

Many times, a will contains a residuary clause. There are basically two different sections when it comes to dividing assets. The first is called a gift, which is any specific items left to certain beneficiaries, as stated in the will. The second is known as the residuary. The residuary is designed to cover everything that is not specifically given. The rest of the estate (or the residuary) will go to the named beneficiaries. For example, an individual could choose to give his son a watch and his daughter a ring when he passes (these are specifically outlined gifts). He also chooses to divide his property equally among his two children (this is the residuary).

Along with how to divide the property, a testator or testatrix can also outline memorial requests in his or her will. A will allows you to outline specific ceremony requests, whether it be who speaks or where to perform a burial. Many times, people will have religious requests. This could be requesting a pastor lead the ceremony, having a time of prayer, etc. Memorial requests can be as in depth or as brief as the individual wants. Some people simply state that their family will know what to do and make no further requests. It essentially comes down to whatever the individual wants.

Many people change their will throughout their lifetime or create a new will. Changes to the will can be accomplished through a codicil or the creation of a new will. In either case, the document will need to be re-executed. The most recently created will or codicil is the only document that goes into effect. All prior wills hold no legal effect.

A will is commonly confused with a living will. These are two completely different documents with different effects. The two are not interchangeable.

When Should You Create a Will?

Many people don’t plan to establish a will until much later in life. In reality, the best time to create a will is after having your first child. In the case you are either incapacitated or deceased, your will allows you to appoint a guardian for minor children and their assets. These are two different types of guardians, although they could be the same person. Including a guardian for your children in your will is an important step in making sure they’re cared for in the event you are incapacitated or pass away.

Additionally, a will allows you to appoint a guardian over any assets you choose to leave your minor children. This allows you to carefully choose an individual you trust to manage a minor child’s assets in a way that will best benefit the child. Once the child reaches adulthood, they will then be able to manage these assets themselves. It’s possible that the guardian over a minor child’s assets can use said assets in a way that benefits them rather than the child. This is why it’s important to appoint a trustworthy guardian to look after your children and their assets.

 If you don’t include a guardian over your children or your children’s assets in your will, a court has the ability to appoint a guardian over your children who are under 18, as well as over their assets. Again, these could be two different people, or the same person. Creating a will after having your first child will ensure that they are well taken care of in multiple regards, should you no longer be able to care for them.

How We Can Help

A valid will is one of the most important gifts you can leave to your loved ones. We can explain the intricacies of wills in the state of Washington and help you draft a will that provides peace of mind for both you and your heirs.