What is a will?
Your last will and testament is a legal document that lets you say how you want to distribute your property to your family members and friends after you die. In this document, you will also name an executor, or personal representative, who is in charge of distributing your property.
There are two ways for a will to be valid in the state of Arizona. First, it must be signed by the person who wrote the will, known as the testator, in the presence of two witnesses. The two witnesses must then sign their names, confirming that they witnessed the signature, in front of both the testator and the other witness.
The other type of valid will under Arizona law is called a holographic will. This document is written entirely in the testator’s handwriting. To be valid, a holographic will must list how the testator wants his or her personal property and real property to be distributed, and state that the testator intends to dispose of the property. This document must also be signed by the testator, but no witnesses are required.
Can I change my will?
In Arizona, you can revoke or change your will at any time, as long as you have the mental capacity to understand what you are doing. In order to legally change your will, you can create a new will, stating that you revoke all previous wills, or you can add an amendment to your existing will, known as a codicil. For your new will to be valid, you must either have it witnessed or you can prepare a holographic will.
Why should I create a will?
There are two benefits to creating a will. First, this document allows you to distribute your property after you die. People who do not have a will or other estate planning documents in place, such as a living trust, will die intestate. Their belongings will be distributed according to state laws that are meant to reflect what lawmakers believe a fair distribution of property would be. However, creating a will gives you more power to distribute your property the way you want to.
Second, a will is the only document in Arizona that lets parents name guardians for their minor children under 18 years old. Even if you plan on using a trust to distribute your property, if you have young children, it is a good idea to put together a will to ensure that your children are cared for.
What are some downsides to using a will?
There are a number of downsides to using a will as the primary way to distribute your assets.
First, unless your estate is relatively simple and eligible for Arizona’s informal probate process, all belongings distributed through your will need to go through a formal probate. This process ties up your property until the final court approval, which can take some time and cost your family money.
How can I avoid probate?
There are a number of ways you can structure your estate and property ownership to avoid the probate process.
One of the best ways to protect your assets is to put together a revocable living trust. Property involved with a trust avoids probate.
It’s also possible to title your property in a way that it will pass automatically to someone else once you die. Married couples are able to own homes or land as community property with right of survivorship. When one spouse dies, their property will pass automatically to the surviving spouse.
You can also beneficiary designate your assets. If you put someone as a beneficiary of your bank account, for example, your bank account will not need to go through probate. Virtually every asset can be beneficiary designated.
These options do take time to organize. It’s important to plan ahead so don’t put your estate planning off until the last minute.
This article does not provide legal advice. If you have questions about creating or changing your last will and testament, or other estate planning needs, please contact me today.