It can be frightening facing your own mortality and thinking about making plans for your family and finances after you are gone. Not only is going through this process the right thing to do, but you will also receive peace of mind in the knowledge that important decisions about your finances and final arrangements will be handled according to your wishes.
Securing your family legacy is an extremely personal matter, and you need a skilled Alabama estate planning attorney in your corner that will treat you with the same compassion and respect as they would a member of their own family. Our goal at Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C. is to walk you and your loved ones through the estate planning process, providing you with protection for life’s uncertainties. This begins with the creation of a last will and testament.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that controls the disposition of your assets upon your death. The laws of each state outline the formal requirements for a legal will. In Alabama:
- You (known as the “testator”), must be at least 18 years old, as the maker of the will
- Your will must be in written form
- At the time you execute the will, you must be of sound mind
- Your will must be free of improper influences by others
- Your will must be witnessed by two people in the manner required by law
Wills do not become final until the testator passes away. You have the right to change, make additions to your will, or draw up an entirely new document, provided you meet the same legal requirements set forth above. All changes to a will also need to go through your estate planning attorney to be valid. Just writing on an existing will or crossing something out could invalidate all or part of the document.
The Importance of a Last Will & Testament
People often put off estate planning in the belief that creating a will is something only the ill or elderly need to consider. Others believe that they don’t have enough wealth accumulated to require a will. However, estate planning can benefit anyone, regardless of health, age, or income bracket. If you are unsure about the need for or the benefits of creating a last will and testament, we urge you to discuss the basics of these documents and your particular circumstances with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.
Some people believe that they can simply write out their final wishes in their own hand and that these directions must be followed. This is known as a holographic will. This type of unwitnessed handwritten will is valid and executable in some states, but not in Alabama. Having your will done right can help the people you love avoid a long probate process and ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
Laws of Intestacy in Alabama
When a person dies without a will, or without a valid will, they are considered to have died “intestate.” When this occurs, the laws of intestacy in Alabama will apply to the transfer of that person’s estate, and this may not mirror what the decedent wanted done with their assets.
For example, Alabama’s intestacy law gives your assets to your closest relatives, starting with your spouse and children. If you have neither, it will go to grandchildren or parents and then more distant relatives. While the law won’t allow you to completely exclude a spouse in sharing the estate, you can certainly make more adjustments to suit your wishes. Your lawyer can explain those options for you.
Different Types of Wills to Suit Your Wishes
Every client is unique, which is why we recognize that there are different types of wills that can satisfy your needs by protecting your estate and the financial future of the people you care about. Some examples include:
- Simple Wills. A Simple Will outlines the testator’s wishes for who will get certain assets at the time of their death. There are no stipulations on the distribution, other than that the beneficiary is living.
- Complex Wills. A Complex Will might put more restrictions on the distribution of assets. For example, a gift might be given to a child when they reach a certain age or only after they have attained a certain goal, such as graduating from college.
- Pour Over Wills. A Pour Over will dictate that the decedent’s assets will be “poured” into a trust at the time of death, implying that a trust has already been established.
While none of these wills will ensure that probate won’t occur, each can reduce the time and complexity of the probate process. Working with an estate planning attorney can also help reduce the financial and emotional burden on loved ones after your death.
Living Wills in Alabama
A living will, while important, is not the same thing as your last will and testament. These are sometimes referred to as advanced medical directives and are something we recommend for every client. This is a document that gives you the opportunity to advise medical professionals and loved ones of your wishes for medical treatment should you later become incapacitated and not be able to communicate your choices.
The Benefit of Hiring an Alabama Wills Attorney
Wills and other estate planning documents need to be created while you are still capable of making intelligent, informed decisions for yourself. These are important instruments that give you the ability to express your most detailed wishes, that are to be carried out even when you are at your most vulnerable.
While there are fill-in-the-blank estate planning forms available online, it would be a mistake to trust your future to this flawed system. These forms may seem quick and easy, but just one error (or worse, using universal forms that don’t consider Alabama laws) can cost loved ones much heartache, confusion, and money.
There is no substitute for the personal touch of an estate planning lawyer who uses their knowledge and extensive understanding of the law to protect you and your family. Our attorneys care about your situation and can help you with a comprehensive asset inventory, last will and testament preparation, will signing ceremonies, codicils and addenda, powers of attorney, trusts, and probate administration.
Contact our Auburn office now at 334-821-1908 or reach out to us online to schedule an initial consultation.