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What is a Will?

Most residents of Massachusetts have heard wills discussed, even if what they know about these legal documents comes mostly from movies or televisions. What is a will, exactly?

At its most basic form, the will is a legal document that lets you record your wishes about estate matters in writing. Usually, people use a will to detail how assets should be distributed to heirs, businesses or charities. Wills can also provide direction for the care of minor children or other dependents.

There are several types of wills. Oral wills are testaments that are spoken by an individual. They may even be recorded. In general, such wills are not given wide legal recognition. There are also holographic wills, which are written and signed without any witnesses present. These wills aren’t likely to hold up in probate court, particularly if they are contested by legitimate heirs.

A living will is a document that doesn’t discuss assets or similar estate matters. Instead, it provides information about your wishes for medical care should you become incapacitated and be unable to make such that decisions for yourself. Sometimes, this document is called an advance directive.

Finally, there is the traditional will, which is known as a testamentary or self-proving will. This is the document that is created to establish your wishes about assets, property, and children. It is usually signed by yourself and several witnesses. Even this type of will can be contested in court, especially if there are multiple versions of the will.

While it’s important to keep your estate documents updated, working with legal assistance to ensure subsequent documents are properly formatted and written can help reduce problems later in probate situations.

Source: Investopedia, “What Is A Will And Why Do I Need One?,” Lisa Smith, accessed June 12, 2015

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