The most common purpose of a will is to name the individuals who receive particular property belonging to a person – the decedent or testator – upon his or her death. For an individual with minor children another important objective of the will is to name the person (or persons) who should care for his or her children – the “guardian” – in the event that both parents die (as a result of a simultaneous tragedy or otherwise). An individual can also provide specific instructions in the will regarding certain decisions relating to raising the minor children (i.e., which schools they should attend).
An individual must also name in the will a trusted and responsible relative and/or friend to be the “executor” of his or her estate. The executor is the individual who eventually will be appointed by the court to carry out the decedent’s wishes in accordance with the terms of the will.
In addition to instructing the manner in which one’s assets should be distributed, a properly crafted will also is a great tool for tax planning in order to avoid and/or defer federal or state estate taxes. This is often accomplished by including within the will certain mechanisms and trusts that become effective upon one’s death. An experienced estate planning attorney should be consulted in order to construct a will in a manner that conforms with the individual’s wishes while also being economically efficient and feasible.
Ultimately, a will is effective and enforceable, and an individual’s final wishes are honored, only if it is properly drafted and executed in accordance with certain precise formalities prescribed by state law.
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