I am frequently asked if it is even necessary to make a will; or in the alternative, can’t I just write down what I want to happen after my death and leave it for my family in case of my death? Or can I get one of those will forms or will kits off the internet or at an office supply store? Won’t that be just as good?
The reason it might not be is that the law requires certain things to be contained in a document before it can even be called a “will.” Even handwritten wills in Tennessee are required to comply with certain formalities in order to be enforceable. A handwritten will must have all of the material provisions entirely in the handwriting of the person making the will. It must clearly appear to be intended as a will, and must somewhere contain the signature of the person and should also contain a date. If the will is not clear, or if important things are left out, such as who is to serve as personal representative to carry out the will, a court may still have step in and make decisions. In some instances the will might not even be valid if it does not contain everything required by law. Handwriting your own will can in many instances cause the estate to cost more to handle because the person writing the will is not familiar with all of the legal requirements.
The same issues apply to store-bought forms or online will kits. If you don’t understand all the language you are putting in the document, or why you are putting it in there, or how the court might interpret the language, are you really sure you are helping your loved ones by preparing this instrument yourself? It might only end up costing your family more in the long run to straighten out confusion or incorrect language. It might even cause the court to have to decide that the document is not a will under Tennessee law and that therefore you died without one.
Tennessee law fills in the blanks for those who die without a will. Our “laws of intestate succession,” as they are called, dictate which relatives receive an inheritance, and in what shares. While it’s extremely rare for someone to have so few kin- even distantly related- that their estate will go to the State if they die without a will, not having a will means that state law and not the deceased will get to determine who gets what.
Dying without a will sometimes means that an estate costs more to handle – there may be more steps to take in probating the estate and more expenses involved when there is no will to appoint a personal representative (the generic term for an “executor”) or to allow the personal representative to serve without posting a surety bond, for example.
Having a well drafted will can save your loved ones, time, aggravation and money by not only making your wishes clear, but taking steps to ensure that administering your estate will go smoothly. A simple will is typically fairly inexpensive and costs a lot less than multiple trips to court to deal with the confusion and uncertainty that can result if your “will” is not properly drafted, does not cover what it needs to cover, or is not valid because of missing or confusing language. Call us to help you with this important legal document – we can help make sure things are easier for your family when you pass away.