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Estate planning: What is a will?

On Behalf of | Mar 30, 2023 | Estate Planning |

Few things are certain in life. Two issues you can know for sure are that no one can predict the future, and every person who lives will die someday. You might have some awareness of an impending death, such as if you or a loved one have a terminal illness and doctors have said it is merely a matter of time. Death’s uncertainty should never keep you from helping your loved ones prepare for a future that might not include you. That’s the purpose of the Pennsylvania estate planning process. 

There are numerous types of documents that you can incorporate into an estate plan. The most basic one is a last will and testament, typically referred to as just a “will.” A lot of misconceptions exist regarding wills. For instance, some people think that only elderly people need them. Others believe they are unnecessary unless you have a high net worth. Neither is true. Anyone who is age 18 or older may execute a will, and you don’t have to be a millionaire for it to be worthwhile. 

Basic information regarding a last will and testament 

A will is a legal document. If you sign one in accordance with the estate laws in your state, it becomes legally enforceable. The following list shows various goals you can accomplish by signing a will: 

  • Coordination of the distribution of your assets after you die 
  • Appointment of guardians to care for your minor children if you die or become incapacitated 
  • Appointment of an executor to administer your estate 
  • Designation of beneficiaries  
  • Advance directive for end-of-life care decisions 
  • Instructions or desires regarding burial 
  • Written plan of succession for a business 

While this list is not extensive, the issues mentioned here include some of the most common goals people often have when signing a last will and testament.  

You must have testamentary capacity to create a valid will 

Your will is not valid if, when you signed it, you didn’t fully understand what you were doing. You must have knowledge and understanding regarding the true value of your estate and all its assets. You must also understand the implications of the instructions you have incorporated into the document, specifically regarding asset distribution, beneficiaries and heirs.  

If someone believes that you were not of sound mind when you signed a will or that someone threatened or coerced you into signing, that person may decide to contest the will in court. A probate judge would then review the evidence and determine whether your will is valid or invalid. To avoid problems, it’s best to navigate the estate planning process with experienced support from someone who is well-versed in Pennsylvania estate and probate laws.