One of the cornerstones of the estate planning process is preparing a valid and effective will. Wills are one of the best-known estate planning tools but few Massachusetts residents actually know what they can and cannot include in their testamentary documents. Like other legal documents, wills are governed by unique procedural rules that ensure their compliance with state law.
The following information is offered for readers but should not be interpreted as legal advice. When preparing a will or any other estate planning document, an individual can consult with their own legal counselor advice.
The testator: Creating a will
A person who makes a will is called a testator. Testators can be any adults who have the requisite mental capacity to create their own wills. This means that an individual must understand what their will includes, and what its provisions will cause to happen upon their death, before they can sign and create a valid will.
The witnesses: Validating the testator
The testator is not the only person who must sign a will. In general, a will must be signed by two witnesses who can attest to the competency of the testator at the time the will was executed. Witnesses do not have to read the provisions of the will in order to sign, but must also be adults who can substantiate the capacity of the testator to create a valid will.
The will: Written and descriptive
For most individuals, their wills must be written. Oral or nuncupative wills are not generally accepted for regular people. However, soldiers on active duty and sailors who are at sea can bequest their personal property through spoken wills as they do not have the opportunity to write out their bequests.
Revoking a will: Necessary changes
Wills are important legal documents, but they are not incapable of modification. When a testator gets married or divorced, has children or changes affiliations with friends and family, they may wish to change the provisions of their will so that their bequests go to the people who they intend. Often a will must be revoked and replaced in order to change how and to whom certain property will go upon the death of the testator.
This post only touches on a few of the important procedural and legal requirements of creating valid wills in Massachusetts. A will is a powerful tool in a person’s estate planning arsenal and can help elucidate their testamentary intentions when they have passed on. Getting a will right from the start is an important step in protecting a testator’s intentions, and an estate planning attorney can be a valuable asset during this important process.