Trust and Estates Newsletters
When a person dies intestate (without making and leaving a will), each state provides a default plan (usually known as the statute of descent and distribution) under which his or her net estate is disposed. When a person dies intestate, there is no adding to the default plan. The default plan is the only plan. This article discusses the disadvantages of descent and distribution related to the inability to add to the default plan.
One of the main purposes for making and leaving a will is to guide the administration of the estate of the testator--the person who made the will. A will should be written in language that is clear and indisputable. Alas, the language in a will may be unclear or vague. This article discusses the will interpretation and construction issues of lapse and mistake.
When a person dies, the first thing that must be done concerning distribution of his property is to determine whether he left a will. In most cases, the spouse or children will know or have an idea that there was or was not a will. If not, a search of the deceased's papers and safe-deposit box may offer some leads. If the deceased had a lawyer or saw one before his death, the lawyer should be asked if he has any knowledge of a will.
A simple definition of a will can be found in a paralegal textbook, Edward A. Nolfi's Basic Wills, Trusts, and Estates (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill 1995). Mr. Nolfi writes that: "A will is a formal letter to the probate court judge declaring what the maker wants after death." Let's look at each part of this intriguing definition.
A written will is obviously required to be in writing. What the writing requirement really means is that the medium a will is written in must be sufficiently permanent. The medium must be permanent enough to provide a reliable record of the testator's testamentary desires for the probate court.