What are the Basic Components of a Will?

There are a number of basic components to a Will.  A  Will needs to be clear and  unambiguous.  The common beginning component of a Will is for the Will-maker, the testator, to identify clearly what his or her intention is in drawing up the Will.  It should be clear at the outset that what the testator is doing is to set forth his or her final instructions as to how and to whom his or her estate is to be distributed.  The next basic and practical component of a Will is for the testator to direct that all of his or her final expenses be paid from the net proceeds of the estate following the estate’s administration.
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Another basic component of any Will is to identify the beneficiaries who will receive property that comprises the testator’s estate.  If a testator is married, he or she will normally name his or her spouse as the primary recipient of the estate’s assets.  If the testator has children, then it is normal and customary to provide that if his or her spouse predeceases them, that the parties’ children then will receive the estate’s proceeds.  Just as important to the Will making is that if a testator elects, he or she can consciously choose to disinherit one or more of his or her natural heirs.  Heirs are normally children or other relatives who are in line to receive property from the testator at death.  Sometimes, a child or other family member will grow apart from the testator, have very little contact with the testator, and therefore, the testator may decide not to leave any property to this alienated person.  If that’s the case, then the testator must clearly state that it is his or her wish to leave nothing for this person.
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Another basic component to a Will is the devise of personal property to named beneficiaries.  This can be done in one of two ways.  The first method of making gifts of personal property is to make what is known as a specific bequest.  An example of a specific bequest is where a grandmother gives her diamond wedding ring to her granddaughter.  A specific bequest can be an item of personal property such as a diamond ring, a set of china, a favorite shotgun, etc., or it can be a sum of cash.  Specific bequests are normally made by the estate’s personal representative – either an executor or administrator – prior to any distribution of the residuary estate if made in cash.
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Not only are those who are to receive property named as beneficiaries in a Will, but another basic component of a Will is to state how the property is to be distributed to those named as beneficiaries.  If minors are named as beneficiaries, a basic component of the Will may be to provide that a minor’s share of the estate or a specific gift is to be held by an adult parent, guardian, or custodian until the minor is old enough to manage the property properly.  Another method of devising a means by which certain beneficiaries are to be gifted property is through trust provisions incorporated in the Will, or what is commonly referred to as a testamentary trust.
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After designation of to whom and how specific property is to be distributed in the Will, all property remaining is devised to named beneficiaries by what is commonly referred to as the residuary clause.  This is a catch-all provision that provides that all remaining property not previously designated for distribution is to go to certain named people.  This is basic to any Will.  Again, if certain of these named beneficiaries predecease the testator, then provision is normally made for successors in interest, or this property would increase the share of the surviving beneficiaries, by default.
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Another basic component of any Will is for the testator to appoint the individual, or individuals that he or she wants to administer her or his estate upon their death.  These people are known as executors.  Again, it is important to name successor executors if the person chosen does not survive the testator.
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Finally, a basic component of a Will can be to make special provisions for those who are not able to properly manage the property left to him or her either due to being a minor, disabled, or incompetent.  This can be accomplished through a trust, or what is termed a “special needs” trust.
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These are the basic components of a Will.  Consult a Peoria IL probate attorney in your area who is experienced in the field of Will drafting.
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SmithWeerLogo_75Thanks to our friends and contributors from Smith & Weer, P.C. for their insight into the importance of a will.