Q: What is a will?
A: A will is a legal document that sets forth how you want your real property (house, condominium, etc.) and your personal property (car, furniture, jewelry, other belongings) distributed after your death.
Q: Do I need a will?
A: Everyone needs a will. If you do not make a will, the law mandates that your closest living relatives inherit your property. In other words, if you do not make a will, you do not have any say about how your property will be distributed. Subject to certain limitations, a will allows you to give your property to whomever you want, including friends, charities, and non-immediate family. A will can be especially important if you have children under the age of 18 and you want to make sure they are taken care of in the event of your death.
Q: I already have a will. Can I change my will?
A: Yes, you can amend your will as many times as you wish. If there is just a small change, you can add a codicil. If there are many changes, it may be simpler to have a new will drafted. Changes to your will can involve legal consequences. It is always best to seek the advice and assistance of a lawyer to make sure changes will be valid and not adversely affect other parts of your will.
Q: Who should draft a will?
A: Though many online sites claim to provide will “templates,” each state has specific laws about wills and how property can be bequeathed. An online template may miss critical requirements. A will is a complicated legal document and requires professional judgment. A lawyer is trained in the law and can advise you according to your individual situation.
Q: Does a will help my family avoid the Probate process and expense?
A: No. In Ohio, whether you pass away with or without a will, most estates must be administered through the Probate Court. However, a will may cut down on certain expenses by waiving the requirement for the executor to post a bond or by including provisions for reducing estate taxes.
Q: Does my estate need to be a certain size for a will?
A: No. Everyone who owns any real or personal property should have a will. Even if you have a trust, you still need a will to take care of holdings that are not included in the trust. A will can help reduce confusion and expenses for your loved ones left behind.
Q: Who will manage my estate?
A: If you make a will, you may name the person you want to handle your affairs and manage your estate (the executor). If you do not make a will, the Probate Court will appoint someone (the administrator), whom you may or may not know, to handle your estate.
Q: Is all of my property taken care of through a will?
A: Not necessarily. There are many types of property (joint bank accounts, retirement savings, life insurance, etc.) that may not be includable in a will or your estate. An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you identify these types of property and assist you in setting up a personalized plan for your estate. (See “Other Estate Planning Tools”).
Q: Is there a way I can be sure my will is valid before I pass away?
A: Through a legal process called ante mortem declaration, you can have the Probate Court declare your will valid and that it expresses your true intentions before you pass away. This helps avoid a potential Will Contest Action.