What Is a Last Will and Testament and How Does It Work?

The purpose of estate planning is to create and update the necessary documents to ensure your assets are protected and managed properly should you pass away or become incapacitated.


To do this successfully, it’s important for you to know what these estate planning documents are, how they function, and who oversees that your wishes are carried out. The first of these documents is your Last Will and Testament.


What is a Will?

A Will is a declaration (in writing) of your intention of what happens to your property at your death. 


Wills can be structured to give specific property or sums of money to certain beneficiaries.  For example, you give $1,000 to each of your grandchildren. The remainder of your estate goes to your spouse (either outright or in trust), but if your spouse is no longer living, the remainder is left in equal shares to your children or other beneficiaries to be held in trust until they reach a certain age or for their lifetimes.


Who manages a Will?

Under your Will, you will need to designate an Executor.  The Executor’s responsibilities are those involved in the management of your estate from the time of your death until the property is distributed under the terms of your Will. 


What does a Will Executor do?

In general, the Executor will be responsible for:

  • Determining and collecting assets of the deceased
  • Determining the debts of the decedent and settling them according to law
  • Preparing and filing all tax returns due (including the decedent’s final personal income tax return and the estate tax return) and handling any audit thereof
  • Distributing the estate’s remaining property according to the terms of the Will      


As you can see, these duties are primarily technical and administrative in nature and need to be managed by someone who has the time, experience, and inclination to devote to the task.


The Executor files the original Will and a Petition to Probate the Will in the Probate Court of the County where the deceased resided at his/her death. The Executor will take an oath and be issued Letters Testamentary. The Letters Testamentary are the Executor’s authority documents and will be presented to banks, closing attorneys, etc. The Executor serves until the completion of the estate administration, which typically takes 9-15 months for larger estates and 6-9 months for smaller estates. 


To learn more about Wills and other important estate planning documents, check out my recent webinar “Building Blocks of Estate Planning” here.


Estate Planning with Lefkoff-Duncan


Are you realizing you need to update your estate planning documents, but you aren’t sure where to begin? Lefkoff-Duncan is here to help. Our experienced team will assist you in all of your estate planning endeavors so that you’ll never again need to wonder if you’ve done enough to take care of the ones you love. Give us a call at your convenience at 404-262-2000 to get started.