Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994


If you have a will, you’re a step ahead of half of all Americans, whose families stand to lose significantly if they die unexpectedly.

Why you need a will

Your will lets you control what happens to your property. If you have minor children, a will can designate who will care for them after your death. You can specify a legal guardian for your children and name a personal representative to handle the distribution of your estate to your designated beneficiaries.

What if you die without a will? 

Your property must be distributed, so the probate court will appoint a personal representative of your estate to distribute the property in accordance with state laws. The costs associated with this are more expensive than if you name a personal representative in advance. You also risk having someone you wouldn’t have chosen to be in charge of your estate. The costs must be paid out of your estate before any property is distributed.

How do you make your will legally valid? 

After you’ve drawn up your will, you must take the formal legal step of executing the will. This requires having at least two witnesses who have no potential conflict of interest. If your will is executed in a lawyer’s office, two other attorneys or support staff might serve as witnesses.

A valid will requires that:

  • You are of legal age, which is 18 in Michigan and most states
  • You are mentally competent (you know you are executing your will and know the general nature and extent of your property and your descendants or other relatives who would be expected to share in your estate)
  • The will must dispose your property and indicate your intent to make the document your final word on what happens to your property
  • The will must be written
  • You must sign the will unless illness, accident, or illiteracy prevents it, in which case you can designate someone to sign for you in your presence
  • Your signature must be witnessed by at least two adults who understand they are witnessing a will and are competent to testify in court.
  • If your will doesn’t meet all of these conditions, it might be disallowed by a court and your estate could be distributed according to state law.

Can you leave your property to anyone? 

In general, you can choose the people you want your property to go to and leave it to them in whatever proportions you want—with some exceptions. For example, a surviving husband or wife may have the right to a fixed share of the estate regardless of the will. Some states limit how much you can leave to a charity if you have a surviving spouse or children, or if you die soon after making the provision.
You usually can’t disinherit your spouse, but in Michigan and every other state except Louisiana, you can disinherit your children. Your intent to disinherit them must be in writing.

What is a video will? 

In a video will, you read your will and explain why certain gifts were made (and others not made). The video might also show the execution of the will. If the will is contested, the video provides compelling proof that you were mentally competent and correctly executed the will. Consult with your attorney before making a video to find out about your state’s laws. Generally, videos are supplements, not substitutes, for a written will.

Excerpted from information by the American Bar Association

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