A will is a document that is presented to the probate court after you are gone. The probate court judge needs to be able to read that document and determine that it is in fact your will and that you signed that will. The judge then issues a court order to distribute your property following your instructions. This all sounds very simple. However, you are not available to testify that the will is in fact yours. The judge has to make sure that no one changed your will without your permission. The judge also needs to determine by reading the will who you wanted to receive your property and what you wanted each person to have. All of these decisions are made without the testimony of the one and only person who really knew what he or she wanted: you! Therefore, your will must speak for itself.
The words in a will are confusing because the law on wills came from our English heritage. Unlike most areas of law where more modern terms have been incorporated into the law, much of the terminology associated with wills has not changed for centuries.
A Will Is Divided into Parts
The more specific you are about what you want, the easier it will be for the probate court judge to make the right decisions about your property. Each part of your will is designed to help the probate court judge interpret your intentions. A will has parts, often referred to as the articles. Each article is designed to accomplish a purpose.
Don't Be Intimidated by Fancy Words
Words are intimidating when you don't understand what they mean. For instance, let's say you take your car to a mechanic. The mechanic starts talking about the lifters, pistons, plugs, serpentine belt, and catalytic converter, and you become nervous because you have no idea what he is talking about. When your will includes phrases like “descendants by right of representation” or “property passing per stirpes,” that same sense of unease fills your mind. Don't be intimidated! By the time you finish reading this chapter, you will understand those fancy words.
Because the words in a will have a particular meaning to the court, it is important for you to learn those terms and use them correctly, especially if you are thinking of preparing your own will.