What is a will?
A will is a document, which when properly drafted and executed, specifies the way assets are distributed at death. In addition, a will allows you to select a representative to carry out the instructions in the will. This person is called the executor (executrix if a woman is appointed). A will can name a guardian for your minor children (children under 18 years old) and may also include instructions about gifts to charity.
Do I need a will?
The short answer is no, you do not need a will. The laws of New York State provide for who inherits your estate if you die without a will. A person who dies without a will has died intestate and his or her assets are distributed to heirs pursuant to the laws of New York State. However, you may want your assets distributed to your heirs differently than the law provides. Having a valid will can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, which can include gifts to family members, friends, or charitable organizations.
I’m fairly young. I don’t need a will, do I?
If you are over 18 and have children you may want to seriously consider preparing a will as well as a basic estate plan. Unfortunately, unexpected illness or accidents can occur at any time. A will allows you to select a guardian for your minor children. This gives you the opportunity to select the person you believe is ideal to raise your children – someone who shares your beliefs and values.
My will was prepared a few years ago. Does it need to be updated?
When circumstances in your life change you may want to consider updating your will or preparing a new will. Marriage, divorce, becoming a parent or death of the executor you selected are some situations which may cause you to consider updating your will. Review your will regularly and make sure it is up to date and accurately reflects the way you want your assets distributed.
Do I need anything else in addition to a will?
The answer to that question is dependent your specific situation. However, in most instances you need not only a will, but at minimum a basic estate plan. A basic estate plan consists of a Will, a Power of Attorney, a Living Will and a Health Care Proxy.
Do I need a lawyer to prepare my will?
No, you do not need a lawyer to prepare your will. However, New York has strict and specific requirements that must be followed for your will to be valid. If these requirements are not followed, it is equivalent to dying intestate (without a will). As a result, the laws of New York state will dictate the distribution of your assets, which may be contrary to your wishes. Also, a will can be relatively basic or very complex. The type of will required depends on your specific situation. If you prepare your will yourself you will have to figure out the level of complexity on your own, without the guidance of legal counsel.