Simply put, a will is a writing that specifies the beneficiaries who are to inherit the testator’s assets, names a representative to administer the estate and who is responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. To be valid a testator you must have legal capacity when the will is written and follow state law.
Wills vary widely in degrees of complexity and can help you achieve any number of wealth and tax goals.
Montgomery County estate planning attorneys use different terms to refer to wills that address various goals. Most names we use for wills reflect the will’s characteristics. For example, a simple will is a basic document giving all assets outright to one or more persons without any specific bequests, protective trusts and without addressing tax planning. In short, a “simple will” is “simple”.
Beyond a simple will, there are many more complex wills that each address a specific type of estate plan. For example, a testamentary trust will refers to a will that within its terms creates one or more trusts upon your death, while a pour over will refers to a will that transfers probate estate assets into a revocable living trust formed by the testator separately from the will.
There are three wills which are signed by couples:
- Contracts to will refers to wills that contain terms that bind two people, typically spouses to specific terms in their wills, which take effect at death. For example, a married couple might have contracts to will terms that state that the second to die is obligated to leave all Montgomery County land to child 1 and all liquid assets to child 2. Once the first spouse dies, the survivor is legally bound to follow these terms no matter how long the second spouse might outlive the first. If the survivor attempts to change the terms, the beneficiaries have the ability to bring a claim before the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court.
- Reciprocal Wills are in which two people, usually spouses, can have wills that are identical with the exception of referring to each other as the heir. Unlike a contract to will, the survivor is free to change the terms after the first person dies.
- Joint Wills allow two persons, usually spouses, to sign a single will. Typically these wills give all assets to the surviving person in the trust and then document states where the remainder will pass at the survivor’s death. Usually the terms cannot be changed after the first person’s death.
Some other types of wills include:
- Holographic will, which describes a handwritten, unwitnessed will. Most states do not recognize holographic wills because of they tend to create ligation over the testator’s intent, but the Montgomery County Register of Wills will accept a correctly executed Montgomery County holographic will.
- Oral Will, is a verbal will not recorded in writing. Few states recognize oral wills, including Pennsylvania. The Montgomery County Register of Wills will not accept an oral will.
Deciding what type of will to best meet your goals can be difficult. Consult with an estate-planning attorney familiar with the options for Montgomery County to learn more.
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