For most people, a last will and testament forms the centerpiece of their estate plan detailing what should be done with their assets and property after they pass away. Therefore, it is often a good idea to start the estate planning process by drafting a will. However, before you do so you should be aware of the various legal requirements under state law that a person writing a will—known as a “testator”—must fulfill for their will to be legally enforceable.
Whether you have a diverse array of assets in your estate or just a few treasured possessions, you may want to work with a Woodstock wills lawyer to ensure your will meets the legal requirements and covers all your expectations. Not preparing a will can have serious consequences for your estate and surviving family members, so contacting a trusts and estates attorney as soon as possible is generally in your best interests.
According to Official Code of Georgia §53-4-20, a will is not valid unless it is put in writing, signed by the testator—or someone acting in the testator’s stead based on the testator’s direct instruction—before two witnesses, and signed by the aforementioned two witnesses in the presence of the testator. While handwritten wills can still be enforceable so long as they are signed in accordance with these procedures, holographic wills, handwritten wills signed only by the testator with no attending witnesses, are not valid in Georgia.
Although retaining legal counsel can be key to ensuring a will is comprehensive and enforceable, Woodstock residents are not required by law to hire an attorney during the drafting of their will, nor does state law require wills to be notarized in order for them to be valid. However, a testator and their witnesses can make a will “self-proving” by signing an affidavit acknowledging their testamentary capacity.
In other words, acknowledging their awareness that they were signing a will and their intent to do so before a notary. This can make probate go a lot faster, as it allows courts to skip the step of contacting witnesses to ensure a will’s validity.
If a testator wants to make a small alteration or addition to their will, they can do so by drafting and signing a codicil under the same procedures necessary to make a valid will. Additionally, a testator can revoke an outdated will at any time by intentionally destroying the outdated will, reviving an older one, creating a new will that explicitly supersedes the outdated one, or taking any other express annulling action.
If a Woodstock resident passes away without a valid will, Georgia’s laws of intestate succession will dictate what happens to their property. Generally, this means that the decedent’s closest living relatives will get all their assets, starting with their spouse and/or children, then their parents or grandparents, followed by more distant relations like siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. If there are no surviving family members available, the contents of a decedent’s estate will become the property of the state.
In addition to ensuring property goes where a testator wants it to, drafting a will also allows a testator to select the person, known as an executor, who will ensure their final wishes are carried out. A wills lawyer in the area could go into further detail about what a will could address and what should be included in a particular draft.
While you are not technically required under state law to write a will, deciding to go without one can be extremely risky. If you do not give specific instructions regarding who should get your property, who will take care of minor children, and who will execute your last wishes, state law will take precedent instead, and neither you nor your surviving family members will have any control over the outcome.
A Woodstock wills lawyer could help ensure your will is clear, thorough, and legally enforceable. Call today to schedule your initial consultation.
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