A will is a legal document that, at its core, says who gets your stuff after you are gone and who is responsible for getting it there.

Each state has different laws about what formalities need to be followed for a document to qualify as a “will”. For example, some states allow what are called holographic wills. It is a handwritten document signed by the testator (the person writing the will). Washington State does not allow holographic wills, so that person would be treated as if they died without a will and their assets would be governed by the state’s default estate plan under the law of intestate succession.

It is important to make sure your will meets all the requirements of a will as required by the laws of the state where you lived when you signed it. If you later move, most wills remain valid under the new state’s laws, but it is always a good idea to check with an attorney to make sure the will is enforceable in your new state and that there are no reasons to revise it that are unique to your new home state.

At the beginning of your will, it is a good idea to clearly identify all of your immediate family, spouse and children. Doing so heads off any arguments that you “forgot” someone.

Also, in your will is the perfect place to nominate guardians for minor children. We can also make arrangements for family members who may be on Medicaid, who may have unique challenges, or any other special circumstances.

A will is the cornerstone of your estate plan and can address a multitude of issues. Make sure that your will accomplishes your goals. I love estate planning, but Gravis makes way more money on the dysfunctional probates created by inadequate estate plans. This is truly one of those times where you (or your surviving family) get what you paid for.