A Last Will and Testament is a formal legal document which allows you to state who should inherit your assets and who should be in charge of your estate after your death.
In your Will, you can nominate one or more persons to be the guardian of any of your children who may be minors at the time of your death. You can also nominate an “Executor,” who would be in charge of filing the Will with the Court and administering your estate through the probate process. The probate process includes identifying the decedent’s assets, paying final bills, and making distributions to the beneficiaries.
Your Will identifies the beneficiaries of your estate. This can be stated in general terms, such as: “I leave my entire estate to my children in equal shares.” It can also be done more specifically such as: “I leave my diamond ring to my sister.” Assets can be left in percentage shares or in specific dollar amounts. You can leave property to individuals or charities. It is a good idea to name back-up (or “contingent”) beneficiaries, to plan for the possibility that your primary beneficiaries may have died before you.
Many people are now including Trusts as part of their estate plan. Even if you have a Trust, you should also have a Will. It is common to create what is known as a “Pourover Will,” which simply states that all of your assets should be transferred to your Trust at the time of your death. In this way, all of your assets are “poured over” into the Trust, to be handled by the Trustee in accordance with the instructions provided in the Trust document.
A Will does not expire with time, though it is a good idea to re-visit the terms of your Will every five years or so. If you wish to make changes to your Will, you can do so by signing a “Codicil” or creating a new Will entirely. You cannot make changes to an existing Will simply by writing new language on the original document itself; that would be invalid under New Hampshire law.
If you die without a Will, then who inherits your property? The answer lies in the New Hampshire “intestacy” law. The intestacy law provides that in the absence of a Will, a decedent’s property will be distributed to various family members, in accordance with the law’s order of priority. People are often surprised by the results of inheritance when there is no Will, so it is best to set forth your wishes in a Will, rather than relying on what the intestacy law would provide for you.
It is advisable to have the assistance of a lawyer when signing your Will, to be sure that it complies with New Hampshire law. The requirements vary by State, and certain formalities are necessary in order for the Will to be valid.
© Annis & Zellers, PLLC
This material is introductory and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with your lawyer for estate planning services based upon your specific circumstances.