A will is one of the most foundational documents in the estate planning process. A will is a legal document in which a person designates who will receive one's property when he or she dies.
According to Massachusetts law, any person of a sound mind may make a will if he or she is at least 18 years old.
In general, a valid will must be:
- In writing
- Signed by the person creating the will, also known as the "testator," or by the testator's designated representative under the testator's direction and supervision
- Signed by at least two witnesses
Another important part of a valid will is that extrinsic evidence must be able to show that the testator intended for the document to be his or her will. This sometimes becomes an issue of dispute in situations where individuals create a will without an experienced estate planning lawyer.
Important considerations for Massachusetts wills
Having an updated will is generally important, but there are certain situations which create an urgent need for proper estate planning.
1. General life changes. Although you can create a will at the age of 18, it is important to periodically reexamine the contents of the will to reflect important life changes such as marriage, divorce, children, and the death of any beneficiaries.
2. New assets. Most people acquire new assets between the age of 18 and when they die. These include homes, stocks, and vehicles, among other things. It is important to update your will if you acquire any new valuable assets to ensure that your wishes are reflected.
3. Special needs planning. Parent with children should have a will to ensure that their children are taken care of in the event of the parents' untimely death. However, special needs children often require extra planning. Parents of special needs children understand that ongoing medical care and special equipment can be very expensive. That's why a special needs trust and other estate planning tools may be necessary to provide adequate asset protection for your children. Special needs trusts are also important for individuals who are caring for disabled relatives.
4. Business interests. A will and other estate planning tools are essential for individuals who own businesses. A proper estate plan can minimize the disruption of a business in the event of an owner's death and ensure that the business continues to run in as smooth a manner as possible. Estate planning tools can also help protect the business' assets from creditors in certain situations to ensure the company's longevity.
Why estate planning attorneys matter
An experienced estate planning lawyer can assess your unique circumstances and tailor an estate plan to your needs. It is important to visit an estate planning attorney early to ensure that your wishes are respected and that your family members are taken care of.