Wills & Estates

Why every parent needs a will.
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What is a Will? A Will is a document which provides who is to receive your property at death, who will administer your estate, the appointment of trustees and guardians, if applicable, and other provisions.

Who may make a Will? Generally, any person 18 years or older of sound mind may make a Will. (Some states allow persons under 18 to make a Will)

What happens if I die without a Will? If you die without a will you are an intestate. In such a case, state laws govern who receives your property. These laws are called "intestate succession laws". If you die without a Will, the Court decides who will administer your estate. Generally, it is more expensive to administer an estate of a person who died without a Will, than a person who dies with a Will.

General

When making a Will you need to consider who will be named as your personal representative or executor to administer your estate, who you will name as guardian and trustee of minor children if your spouse does not survive you and who will receive your property. You should also consider tax issues. The person appointed as executor or administrator is often your spouse, but you should also name an alternate, in case your spouse predeceases you. The person you name should be a person you can trust and who will get along with the beneficiaries named in the Will.

In the event your spouse predeceases you, the guardian you name will have actual custody of your minor children unless a court appoints someone else. The trustee you appoint to administer a trust you established will be in charge of the assets of the trust for the benefit of the minor beneficiaries.

Generally, a Will must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses (three for Vermont) who also sign the Will. A notary public will also need to sign if the Will contains a self-proving affidavit. Generally, a self-proving affidavit allows the Will to be admitted to probate without other evidence of execution.

Joint Property: Many people do not understand that joint property may pass outside your Will and also sometimes assume that it will pass through their Will. They do not understand the significance of joint ownership. The issue is common in the following areas, provided as examples:

(a) Real Estate: Often, a husband and wife will own real estate as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. If one party dies, the surviving party receives the property regardless of what the Will provides. This is common and generally acceptable. However, if this is not your desire you should change the ownership of the property to tenants in common or other form of ownership. If you own real estate as tenants in common, then you may designate who will receive your share of the property at your death. This issue can be a problem when uninformed persons take title to real estate as joint tenants with rights of survivorship but really intended to leave their share to, for example, children of a prior marriage.

(b) Bank Accounts/Certificates of Deposit, Stock, Retirement Plans, IRA’s and other type Property: The same ownership as real estate can be made of these investments. In fact, many Banks routinely place Bank accounts and Certificates of Deposit in the joint tenant with right of survivorship form of ownership if more than one person is on the account or CD, without advising you of the consequence of same. In situations where the persons are husband and wife and there is no issue or concern over divorce or children from previous marriages, this may be the best course of action. However, with divorce on the rise, premarital agreements and multiple marriages being common, the parties may be doing something that was not their intent. Another common problematic situation is where a parent has more than one child but only one child resides in the hometown of the parent. The parent may place the name of the child who resides there on all accounts, CD’s and other investments for convenience reasons and establish a joint tenant with right of survivorship situation without realizing that only that child will be entitled to those assets at the parent’s death. Simply put, you should be aware when you acquire an asset or investment exactly how it is titled.

What is a Living Will? A Living Will, commonly known in Mississippi as an Advanced Healthcare Directive, is a statutory provision in the Mississippi Code that allows you to give instructions about your own health care, name someone else to make health-care decisions for you and designate a physician to have primary responsibility for your health care. An adult or emancipated minor may provide instructions regarding their health care either orally or in writing and may execute a power of attorney for health care, which may authorize an agent to make any health-care decision the principal could have made while having capacity. The power must be in writing, dated, signed and either witnessed by at least two individuals (each of whom witnessed either the signing of the instrument by the principal or the principal's acknowledgement of the signature or of the instrument) or acknowledged before a notary public at any place within Mississippi. Mississippi Code Sections 41-41-201 through 41-41-229 "Uniform Health-Care Decisions Act."