A Last Will and Testament is an essential part of most estate plans. This legal document can accomplish many goals for your estate. A complete estate plan includes other important documents as well. Understanding what to include in a Maryland Will is a good way to prepare for your first meeting with your estate planning lawyer.
Maryland statutes govern the validity of estate planning documents. Under Maryland law, any person age 18 or older who is legally competent can make a Will. The statute requires the document to be in writing and signed by the testator (person making the Will) or by another person for the testator in the testator’s presence and at their direction.
The testator may name any person or organization as a beneficiary. To be valid, the document must include an attestation clause signed by two credible, disinterested witnesses in the presence of the testator. Beneficiaries should not be witnesses.
Revisions to a Will, called codicils, can be made at any time. Codicils must be executed in the same manner as the original document.
Distribution of the testator’s solely owned property is one important purpose of a Will. The property disposition is accomplished by naming beneficiaries and specifying what property each beneficiary receives. Before identifying gifts to beneficiaries, the testator typically provides for payment of funeral and estate administration expenses, taxes, and other debts of the estate.
Testamentary gifts can be any type of property, including specific items of personal property (such as family heirlooms), an amount of money, financial assets (like stocks and bonds), or real estate. A beneficiary can be a person or organization (such as a church or other charitable organization). Property can also be distributed to a new or existing trust.
A beneficiary takes bequeathed property outright, with full ownership vesting immediately. If a testator wishes to maintain control over dispersion of the gift, the property should go into a trust, rather than directly to the beneficiary. If your estate plan includes a trust, your Will ensures that any property left in your estate gets transferred to the trust on your death.
Establishing a trust requires a separate document. Your estate planning lawyer helps you determine whether your circumstances make a trust a better choice for giving property to a beneficiary.
After all specific gifts are identified, the testator identifies a beneficiary to receive the residuary estate, which includes all property that is not otherwise given to a beneficiary or designated for a purpose (like estate expenses).
Another important purpose of a Will is designating the executor for the estate. The executor is the person who applies to the court to be appointed as the personal representative of the estate.
Following appointment, the personal representative collects the property of the estate, pays all debts and expenses, files the legally required documents, and then distributes the property to the beneficiaries. Learn more about the significant responsibilities of this position in our article, The Importance of Appointing a Personal Representative.
Your executor should be a person you trust who has the ability to carry out the duties involved in administering your estate. If you’re uncertain whom to choose, your estate planning attorney can help you through the process of deciding.
If you have minor children, your Will should also name someone as their guardian. That person cares for your children if the natural parents can no longer care for them.
While you can name minor children as beneficiaries of your estate and designate a fiduciary to manage their finances, it’s often better to set up a trust for them. A trust for your children is a separate document in your estate plan. Your attorney helps you decide what the best approach is for your situation.
A testator may express their wishes concerning final arrangements for services and burial or cremation and name the person responsible for making the arrangements. You should talk with your lawyer about any arrangements you have made and any specific wishes you have.
When you’re ready to make a Will, you should talk with an experienced estate planning attorney. You should never use a form or online service. The do-it-yourself (DIY) approach creates substantial risks for you and your loved ones. Consulting with a knowledgeable lawyer is the only way to be certain that all the documents in your estate plan meet the legal requirements and accomplish exactly what you want.
At The Law Office of Henry Nash, we work with clients in Rockville, throughout Montgomery County, and elsewhere in Maryland. We also assist out-of-state personal representatives for Maryland estates. If you have questions about any of our services, we welcome you to call us at (301) 998-6111 or contact us through our online form.