This is the second posting from Stockman Wealth Management on Estate Planning. Understanding the process and putting a plan together, leads us to the topic of a will.
Estate planning can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
The best place to begin is with a document nearly everyone knows about, even if they don’t have one: a will. Otherwise known as a Last Will and Testament, a will is the central axis around which estate planning revolves.
Your signed will (by you, the testator, and two witnesses) legally states your wishes concerning who receives your personal property and assets as well as who cares for your minor children when you die. In certain states, you do not need a notary public to authenticate your signature, but it can be helpful. For example, in the state of Montana, notarizing your will makes it “self-proving.” This allows the court to accept the will as valid without contacting witnesses, thus speeding up probate.
Also, in Montana the witnesses must sign your will within “a reasonable time” (Mont. Code Ann. § 72-2-522). Perhaps this statute is purposely vague, but it points to the job of the witness. Their job is to actually observe you as testator sign and date your will, and promptly (not six months later) sign and date as witnesses.
If your will is not witnessed, but is handwritten, dated and signed by you, it is called a “holographic will.” This is a valid will to varying degrees in 25 states, including Montana. Holographic wills are subject to scrutiny by the courts and contestation by disgruntled heirs, and should be avoided.
You should also avoid dying without a will.
In this circumstance, you are deemed intestate (literally, “one who has not made out a will”), and the state gets to make the decisions regarding your children and property for you.
In our next blog, we will provide a short list of things you should consider when drawing up a will.
If you have any questions, or would like us to address a specific topic, please let us know. Our Stockman Wealth Management CFP® professionals are always available to guide you through the estate planning process.