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A will is a document that states your final wishes. Most wills contain instructions about what should happened to the decedent’s property after they die. Wills are also used to name an executor, name guardians for children and property, decide how debts will be paid, provide for pets, and to serve as a backup to a living trust.

Persons who die without a will are said to have died “intestate.” Generally, for a decedent who dies intestate, the distribution of the decedent’s assets is determined by the applicable statute called the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC). Without a will, your final wishes or intentions will have no effect on the distribution of your assets.

There are a few legal requirements that must be satisfied for a valid will. You must have legal capacity and be of sound mind; in other words, you need to know what property you have and what it means to leave it to someone after your death. You need to create a written document that names the beneficiaries for at least some of your property. You also need to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses. You are not required to have your will notarized, although a notarized self-proving affidavit may make it easier to get through probate.

You can create a will yourself or have an attorney prepare one for you. A simple will is usually relatively inexpensive and straightforward to prepare. You may want to also discuss other estate planning documents with your attorney including trusts, durable powers of attorney, and medical patient advocate designations.