There are typically a few key roles that different individuals must fulfill in order for a will to be considered valid. One of these roles is the Testator, which is arguably the most important. Without the Testator, there would be no will in question. Trust & Will explains who the Testator is, what they’re responsible for, and what you need to know about this key role. (Hint: if you’re thinking about creating a will, then you definitely need to understand the Testator’s responsibilities.)
What is a Testator?
Testator is the legal term for an individual who creates a will. In the past, you would have also seen the term “Testatrix,” which was traditionally used to describe a female individual who created a Will. However, this term is old-fashioned and the term Testator is now used for both males and females.
Although you might not necessarily use the word “Testator” in casual conversation, it is used heavily with regards to estate planning documents, laws, and statutes.
Who is considered the Testator?
Requirements for who shall be considered Testator is determined on a state-by-state basis. Regardless of location, the Testator is the person who created his or her own will.
However, each state has its own rules on who is eligible to create their own will. In general, an individual must be at least the age of 18 to qualify. Further, the Testator must be of “sound mind.” This means that they must be mentally competent such that you are empowered to create a will of your own free will without undue influence from others.
In the eyes of the law, you must have the mental capacity to know your property, your belongings, the nature of your wishes, and be able to express them.
Who can be the Testator of a Will?
Again, in most states, you can create a valid will if you are at least 18 years old and have testamentary capacity. (This is someone who is of sound mind and creates the will using their own free will and motivation.)
However, some states may have rules that are more or less stringent regarding who can be the Testator of a will. For instance, you may live in a state that allows you to write a will as young as 14 years old. Another state might have more restrictive rules about whether or not you qualify to witness a Will. Some states may have more flexible rules on what constitutes a Will, such as allowing an oral Will or holographic will (hand-written.)
Although it may not be required in your state, it’s always a great idea to get your will notarized. This makes your will self-proving and can get your estate through the probate process more quickly and without resistance. Doing so can make the process easier for your loved ones.
What is the responsibility of the Testator?
The key responsibility of a Testator is to create a thorough and comprehensive Will that is valid and will hold up in court. This validity is crucial, because the Will often comes into play after the Testator has passed away. If it’s discovered that the will is not valid, it’s often too late to do anything about it.
The key purpose of a will is to provide information (to both the court and your family) on what you would like for them to do with your estate after you pass away. With this in mind, there are several facets of your estate that you should be careful to address in your will. As a Testator, here are some of your responsibilities:
Make sure there will is comprehensive: One of the preferred outcomes of your Will is being comprehensive enough that you make it as easy as possible for family and court officials to settle your estate. Leaving out details regarding your estate can result in a loved one having to hunt down information, which can be tricky when the person in question has passed. Be sure to speak to every aspect of your estate that you can think of so that nothing goes unaddressed and no one has to conduct any guesswork. Further, being clear and thorough can help prevent conflict and in-fighting amongst family members.
Name an executor: The executor is the individual who is appointed by the court to oversee the process of settling your estate. In order for the court to do so, you must name the Executor you desire. This should be an individual or entity that you trust to remain neutral and fair throughout the process. Not only will they oversee the matter of paying your debts out of your estate, they will also be responsible for distributing property and assets to your heirs.
Name a guardian for dependents: If you have any dependent children, including adult children with disabilities, or pets, you have the option of nominating a guardian who will be charged with the duty of taking care of them when you are gone. If you fail to name a guardian, the court will appoint an individual using state laws. If you want to have a say over who will be taking care of your loved ones, then you should absolutely be careful to name a guardian of your own choosing.
Execute the will: A will is no good if it isn’t valid. Each state has its own set of laws regarding how to execute a will so that it is valid. This typically includes your own signature, plus the signatures of witnesses. Some states may require that you have the document notarized so that it is self-proving. Whatever the requirements may be, be sure to satisfy them such that your will holds up in the court of law.
Share your plan: This point can be debated, but it is generally recommended to let your loved ones know that you have a Will in place, as well as give them a heads up on what to expect. This will give your family members an opportunity to address any questions or concerns while they still have access to you. Based on their feedback, you may also want to make adjustments as necessary. Informing that you have a will in place can provide them with peace of mind knowing that you are leaving behind instructions on how to handle your estate if you were to pass away.
Keep your will secure and up-to-date: Last but not least, take care to keep your will secure and up-to-date. Many people choose to store their physical Will in a safe place such as a safety deposit box, a safe, or a locked file cabinet. Some states have begun to authorize the use of electronic wills that are validated using electronic signatures and online notarization. If you live in one of these states, then a “safe place” could also mean a digital vault, for instance.
Create your Will today with Trust & Will
A Testator is the individual who creates a will for himself or herself. There are several key roles that are critical to making a Will happen, but it all begins and ends with the Testator.
If you are thinking about creating a will, then it’s helpful to understand your responsibilities as a Testator, and how far you want to go with them. For instance, it’s absolutely possible for you to take a shortcut to create a Will that addresses the bare minimum. However, this can create a ripple effect that leaves your loved ones feeling confused, upset, and not feeling taken care of. Instead, you can choose to create a comprehensive Will that provides everyone with peace of mind.
Not many people intentionally take shortcuts when it comes to their will; rather, they don’t have the proper support or education and end up with a Will that didn’t reach its potential. To achieve the latter outcome, it’s helpful to get some support.
Trust & Will provides an online will creation service that makes the process accessible, easy, and affordable. By taking our quizzes and following our prompt, you can feel confident knowing that you set up a Will that is not only comprehensive, but that it is also executed such that it is valid in your state and that it will hold up in probate court one day. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!
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Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.