Your Last Will and Testament – What is it?

Your Last Will and Testament – What is it?

Gifting

Your will is the central organizing document of your estate plan. In it, you tell your executor (the person you select to administer your estate after you pass) who to distribute your property to, and you authorize that person to do so. Take the following language, for example:

“I give to Jane Doe all of my interest in my engagement ring; provided, however, if Jane Doe fails to survive me, this gift shall lapse.”

This states that the person you name as executor is authorized and required to transfer ownership of your engagement ring to Jane Doe if the engagement ring is still in your possession at the time of your passing. If Jane predeceases you, the gift “lapses,” which means that it falls into your residue (everything that you don’t specifically give away).

Residue

As stated, your residue is everything you don’t specifically give away, and you choose a recipient for your residue just like you would do for a specific gift (like the engagement ring example, above). It looks something like this:

“I give all of the residue of my estate to my spouse if my spouse survives me. If my spouse fails to survive me, I give all of the residues of my estate to those of my descendants who survive me per stirpes. If neither my spouse nor any of my descendants survive me, one-half (1/2) of the residue of my estate shall be distributed to my heirs and the other half (1/2) of the residue of my estate shall be distributed to my spouse’s heirs.”

This language directs your executor to transfer ownership of everything you haven’t specifically given away to your spouse if you have a surviving spouse. If not, to your descendants evenly, and if no descendants survive you, to your heirs (your closest living family members, as defined by WA law).

Executor Nomination

You will also nominate someone to serve as an executor, an important role. As discussed above, this is the person that administers your estate and carries out the wishes set forth in your will. Usually, this person hires a probate attorney (like me) to help them through this process because, if done improperly, the executor can be held personally liable. If done properly, the executor cannot be held personally liable for any debt or obligation of the deceased, and claims against the estate are limited to the assets in the estate itself.

Guardian of Minor Children

Most importantly for people with young children or those who may have minors in their care in the future, is the nomination of a guardian. The named guardian would assume responsibility for the minor upon the death of the person making their will (and usually the death of that person’s spouse, if applicable).