Individuals often compose their last will to prepare for the inevitable and secure loved ones they’ll leave behind. They express these intentions in writing and enlist a legal counsel’s assistance to include all personal assets and intended beneficiaries. A will is updated as often as necessary to conform to state laws and all other applicable tenets legally binding.
An estate lawyer often sends out copies of the last will and testament to the named heirs and the will’s executor. The attorney then convenes all concerned individuals to discuss its contents. This event is known as the ‘reading of the will.’
Last will and testament defined
Those who have acquired their possessions through years of hard work naturally desire to pass on their property as an inheritance. To protect their business and personal assets, individuals who are still considered physically and mentally capacitated by law, draft an estate plan. An estate plan is one way to protect your assets since it directs the distribution of possessions to your named heirs and beneficiaries, instead of undergoing probate court proceedings in the absence of a will.
Moreover, the last will and testament is a legal document that discusses how a decedent wishes to distribute their properties and valuables. It allocates assets and assigns these portions to specific individuals. Apart from securing property and assets, a will also designates a guardian to care for young children, in case of the death of their parents. In essence, a will directs how properties, assets and minors are to be cared for after their death.
The reading of the will
In the olden days, not everyone was literate. The lawyer read the contents of the will out loud so family members would understand. Presently, lawyers send out copies of the will to the intended beneficiaries. The estate lawyer will also send copies to disinherited heirs to convene in case one of them is disputing a will.
Typically, the reading of the Will has the following components:
- The naming of beneficiaries. The reading of the will begins with the naming of heirs, bestowal of gifts, and the executor’s appointment for the will. Expected beneficiaries include the surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren. For the unmarried, their parents and siblings are to be considered the primary beneficiaries. The will also names an executor and suggests possible decedents who will eventually dispose of the property and pay related estate fees and taxes.
- The bestowal of gifts. The gifts refer to the deceased person’s properties and assets given to named heirs and beneficiaries.
Such inheritance can include personal effects that the decedent owns, such as jewelry, cash, and investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, etc.). Non-real estate properties such as vehicles, artwork, and furniture are also considered personal property.
While businesses often involve standard guidelines, managing businesses may require consultations with a specialized law firm. For instance, a gaming law firm can discuss applicable gaming laws and advise how business operations should be conducted following the decedent’s wishes.
Conditional gifts include certain requirements before the award of inheritance. Meanwhile, monetary gifts involve a sum of money given to specific persons other than the named heirs.
- Appointment of an executor. The decedent appoints an executor to carry out the disposal of assets and pay for associated estate fees and taxes. An executor also ensures that they will not squander the estate, though some wills may state that bonds are unnecessary.
If the executor fails to fulfill their responsibilities, the will may prescribe remedies in carrying out the decedent’s wishes. An executor’s responsibilities may also include fulfilling requirements for conditional gifts and determining the type and extent of residual estate gifts.
- Setting up a guardianship. The will does not only cover the distribution of assets. It also guarantees the welfare of children under the age of 18. Guardians and a testamentary trust may be named to manage the property while the children are still young. The role of guardians is not only limited to caring for the minors, but also temporarily managing businesses on behalf of the children.
There are several scenarios in which a wills dispute arises. These commonly involve:
The reading of the will not only summons named heirs but may also include persons who have been written off from the will. It can be an intentional omission by the decedent and can serve as a ground for dispute. Estate lawyers will notify the individuals concerned and give them enough time to file for a wills dispute.
Previously named executors and beneficiaries
Wills are updated from time to time, and when the necessity arrives, the decedent may appoint a different executor for the will. Previously named executors may contest the will and insist on their appointment. On the other hand, previously named heirs can also contest the will, asserting their legal right for intestate succession as the standard procedure in distributing properties from the deceased to the spouse and children.
Conditional gifts require meeting specific provisions for heirs to receive their portion. However, the will does not state specific ways to satisfy such provisions.
Grounds for disputing a will
Dissatisfaction with the terms is not a valid reason to contest a will. A person needs to establish their ‘standing’ to file a complaint with the probate court. Once their legal standing has been established, they can contest the will for any of the following grounds:
1. The will does not conform to state laws and legal formalities.
2. The decedent was under duress or mentally incapacitated to omit certain heirs and beneficiaries.
3. The will was obtained through fraud.
The reading of the will is a monumental event for named heirs and beneficiaries. However, it can start a dispute between family members when ambiguous conditions, name omissions, and seemingly unfair proportions are stated in the will. Settling disputes often require the mediation of executors, lawyers, and the probate court as the last resort.