What is in a Typical Will?

A will most likely will include the following provisions:

  • Your name (the testator)
  • The name of your spouse and the date of your marriage, if any
  • The name of your children (and how you wish any foster and stepchildren to be treated), if any
  • A statement revoking any wills you may have previously made
  • Your nomination of a personal representative to administer the estate and usually at least one alternate.
  • A list of powers that you want your personal representative to have (these are often enumerated in your state’s statutes
  • A list of any special gifts
  • Instructions for distributing the remainder of your estate after your debts, taxes, and ex-penses incurred in administering your estate have been paid
  • A waiver of any surety bond requirements

Your will may not cover everything that you consider “your property.” The following types of property are examples of assets that may pass directly to a beneficiary you have named in a separate document:

  • pension plan assets
  • 401(k) plan assets
  • life insurance
  • annuities
  • property held through a “trust”

These assets would usually pass to beneficiaries you have previously named in documents under the supervision of the manager of the pension plan, the company sponsoring the 401(k), life insurance companies, annuities, and in a trust instrument. However, if you name “my estate” the beneficiary of any of these kinds of assets, then your will would control who receives the property and benefits. Be aware that by doing this your eventual beneficiaries may experience some significant delays and/or some important tax disadvantages.

Your will should be prepared and properly executed (signed by you and a certain number of competent witnesses) while you still have legal capacity. Thus, if you want a will, you should have one prepared and sign it according to the applicable state law while you have full control over your mental functions. If you wait until you suffer an accident or an illness, it could be too late.


Inside What is in a Typical Will?