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Exercise Extreme Caution when using many of our free forms - or any legal material. While they may provide general ideas on format & content, validity requirements can and do vary greatly from state to state. Many MUST be Properly Modified for your own location and circumstances. (Hint: If in doubt it's usually safer to include unneeded clauses than to leave out necessary ones. . . . but it's even safer to consult a competent source or use current, state specific ones like ours mentioned below.) Also, we urge people (and lawyers too) to read our Relying On Legal Info FAQ.


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Why do I need a will and what steps can I take now?

Wills and estate planning is often something we associate with the later stages of life. Unfortunately, we often do not choose when we will need a will. If you die without a will, your property (other than that contained in will substitutes), will pass to whomever your State has determined it should go to. Every state has what are called “intestacy statutes” - these are the rules that determine where property will go when someone dies without a will. Under the intestacy statute, your property will go to your closest relatives in a predetermined order.

For example, your property could go first to your spouse, then to your children if you don't have a spouse, or to your parents if you don't have a spouse or child, etc. Different states have different rules for how the property will be split up among your survivors. But, if you have a dear friend who you want to give particular property to, or a sibling who you want to receive a piece of property before your wife and children, then the way to guarantee it will happen is through having a valid will (see section on valid wills).

While there is no substitute for having your lawyer preside over an official will ceremony, you can take intermediate steps that will signal your intent to your survivors, and in some jurisdictions be upheld as valid testamentary documents. Many states now recognize, in one form or another, holographic wills – handwritten documents by the deceased that detail where property is to go (see section on holographic wills). Many people also choose to give up all or some control of their property during life, either making outright gifts, or setting up a variety of will substitutes (see sections on gifts and will substitutes).

Ultimately, dispensing with your property at death takes planning for an event that seems very far away – but could come at anytime. By taking steps now, you can give yourself peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out, and you may be avoiding stress for the loved ones you leave behind.

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Wills - Steps to Take & When You Need One