Frequently Asked Questions About Wills

Learn More About Your Last Will and Testament

 What Is A Will? 

A will is a document that you sign to direct how certain property you own will be distributed after your death.

You can also use your will to:

  • Select your Executor (Personal Representative).  This is the person who is in charge of collecting your assets and distributing them in accordance with your wishes.
  • Nominate a guardian for your minor children.
  • Choose someone to manage your minor children’s inheritance.
  • Describe how you would like your debts and taxes to be paid after your death.
  • Waive certain requirements like surety bonds and inventories, which will save your estate (and your heirs) money.

Who Can Make A Will in Alabama?

Anyone who is:

  • 18 years or older,
  • of sound mind, and
  • not under the improper influence of someone else

How Can I Make A Will In Alabama?

In Alabama, a will must meet the following requirements to be considered valid:

  • it must be written,
  • it must be signed by the maker (testator),
  • and it must be witnessed by two people according to the procedures outlined in Alabama law.

If you work with an Alabama estate planning attorney, he or she will also make sure that your will is “self-proving,” which streamlines the probate process.

Can I Dispose of My Property Any Way I Want?

Almost.  There are some limitations on how you can distribute your property in your will.  An attorney can explain these limitations to you.

Is A Will the Last Word on How My Property Will Be Distributed After My Death?

Not necessarily.  Your will does not override certain other choices you have made with regard to your property.  For example, if you own your home in “joint tenancy with right of survivorship” with your spouse, your last will and testament cannot change that fact to give your ownership rights to someone other than your spouse after your death.

Another example is that you may have bank accounts, life insurance policies, or investment accounts that have “payable on death” designations, which will be unaffected by your will.

All of your assets need to be reviewed and considered when your will is being prepared to make sure that each asset is distributed in accordance with your wishes.  A qualified estate planning attorney can help you understand what other steps you may need to take to insure that all of your property is distributed the way you want it to be upon your death – whether through your will or otherwise.

What If I Leave My Children Out of My Will?

Alabama has what’s called a “pretermitted” child statute that in some situations prevents children from being inadvertently disinherited. If you want to disinherit your children  you should speak to an estate planning attorney about how to make sure your will is clear about your wishes.

Can I Change My Will After I Sign It?

Yes.  You can change your will as many times as you want as long as you are competent and not under any improper influence.

The document(s) you use to change your will must meet certain requirements in order to be recognized by the court as valid changes.  An attorney can help make sure your changes are made correctly.

If you want to make a new will entirely you can do that as well.  Executing a new will usually revokes your previous.

When Should I Change My Will?

If you change your mind about how your property should be distributed you should update your will to reflect that change.

It’s generally a good idea to review your will once a year, and after any major life event (marriage, birth of a child) to make sure that your will still fits your needs. You may also need to change your will if you acquire or sell any property, start or close a business, or if the tax laws change.  Your attorney can give you advice about whether you need a new will or not.

Where Should I Keep My Will?

You should keep  your will in a safe, but accessible place.  You should tell the person you named as your executor where your will is stored and make sure that he or she has access to it.

Do not store your will in a safe deposit box unless your executor or close family member or friend is authorized to access it.

What Does It Mean If Someone Dies “Intestate”?

If you die with leaving a will you are said to have died “testate.”  If you die without a will you are “intestate,” and Alabama law controls how your property is distributed and who gets it.

My Grandmother’s Will Leaves Her Property To Me.  She’s Still Living, But The Property Is Mine Now, Right? 


It’s important to note that a will is only effective once the “testator” (the person who made the will) dies.

Some people mistakenly believe that a beneficiary under a will gets rights to property as soon as the will is signed.  However, because a will does not become effective until the testator dies, and because a person can change or revoke his will at any time, a beneficiary does not have any rights to the testator’s property until the testator dies.

Other estate planning techniques can be used to distribute property while a person is still alive.    A Last Will and Testament, however, only causes your assets to be distributed after your death.

I Have A Power Of Attorney.  Is My Attorney-In-Fact The Same as my Executor?

A Will should also be distinguished from a Power of Attorney.  Some people mistakenly believe that if they have signed a power of attorney then they do not need a will.  This is incorrect because a power of attorney has no effect after your death.

By that same token, you should understand that naming an executor in your will does not give that person any powers over your property while you are still alive.  If you want someone to have authority to act on your behalf while you are living then you need to talk to your estate planning attorney about creating a Power of Attorney or a trust.

Why Should I Have A Will? 

Most people can benefit from the peace of mind offered by having a will. You can rest assured knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of and that your property will be inherited according to your wishes.

What Happens If I Die Without A Will? 

Alabama law has an intestacy statute that determines what happens to your property if you die “intestate,” meaning if you die without leaving a will. The intestacy statute was designed to distribute property in a way that closely represents how  the average person would have designed his estate plan had he signed a will.

Of course, what the average person might have chosen for his estate plan is not necessarily what YOU would want for yours.

The only way to make sure that your property is distributed the way you want after your death is to execute a valid last will and testament

Can I Use The Internet to Prepare My Will?

Online do-it-yourself forms can be tempting, but remember that estate planning isn’t one-size-fits-all, and that online forms can create problems that cost your heirs time and money down the road.

Read More About Whether You Should D.I.Y. Your Will.

Still Have Questions? An Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help.

A lawyer can help you make sure that your will works for you and your loved ones, and that it coordinates with your overall estate plan.   Get peace of mind by talking to our experienced estate planning attorneys today.  Call us at 205-553-5353 or come by our Tuscaloosa office to find out what we can do to protect your assets and your family.