A will or testament is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons, the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.
Though it has at times been thought that a "will" was historically limited to real property while "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property (thus giving rise to the popular title of the document as "Last Will and Testament"), the historical records show that the terms have been used interchangeably. Thus, the word "will" validly applies to both personal and real property. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.
Throughout most of the world, disposal of an estate has been a matter of social custom. According to Plutarch, the written will was invented by Solon. Originally, it was a device intended solely for men who died without an heir.
The English phrase "will and testament" is derived from a period in English law when Old English and Law French were used side by side for maximum clarity. Other such legal doublets include "breaking and entering" and "peace and quiet".
The conception of the freedom of disposition by will, familiar as it is in modern England and the United States, both generally considered common law systems, is by no means universal. In fact, complete freedom is the exception rather than the rule. Civil law systems often put some restrictions on the possibilities of disposal; see for example "Forced heirship".
Advocates for gays and lesbians have pointed to the inheritance rights of spouses as desirable for same-sex couples as well, through same-sex marriage or civil unions. Opponents of such advocacy rebut this claim by pointing to the ability of same-sex couples to disperse their assets by will. Historically, however, it was observed that "[e]ven if a same-sex partner executes a will, there is risk that the survivor will face prejudice in court when disgruntled heirs challenge the will", with courts being more willing to strike down wills leaving property to a same-sex partner on such grounds as incapacity or undue influence.
Types of wills generally include:
Some jurisdictions recognize a holographic will, made out entirely in the testator's own hand, or in some modern formulations, with material provisions in the testator's hand. The distinctive feature of a holographic will is less that it is handwritten by the testator, and often that it need not be witnessed. In Louisiana this type of testament is called an Olographic or Mystic will. It must be entirely written, dated, and signed in the handwriting of the testator. Although the date may appear anywhere in the testament, the testator must sign the testament at the end of the testament. Any additions or corrections must also be entirely hand written to have effect. In England, the formalities of wills are relaxed for soldiers who express their wishes on active service; any such will is known as a serviceman's will. A minority of jurisdictions even recognize the validity of nuncupative wills (oral wills), particularly for military personnel or merchant sailors. However, there are often constraints on the disposition of property if such an oral will is used.
Any person over the age of majority and having "testamentary capacity" (i.e., generally, being of sound mind) can make a will, with or without the aid of a lawyer. Additional requirements may vary, depending on the jurisdiction, but generally include the following requirements:
There is no legal requirement that a will be drawn up by a lawyer, although there are pitfalls into which home-made wills can fall. The person who makes a will is not available to explain him or herself, or to correct any technical deficiency or error in expression, when it comes into effect on that person's death, and so there is little room for mistake. A common error, for example, in the execution of home-made wills in England is to use a beneficiary (typically a spouse or other close family members) as a witness—which may have the effect in law of disinheriting the witness regardless of the provisions of the will.
A will may not include a requirement that an heir commit an illegal, immoral, or other act against public policy as a condition of receipt.
In community property jurisdictions, a will cannot be used to disinherit a surviving spouse, who is entitled to at least a portion of the testator's estate. In the United States, children may be disinherited by a parent's will, except in Louisiana, where a minimum share is guaranteed to surviving children except in specifically enumerated circumstances. Many civil law countries follow a similar rule. In England and Wales from 1933 to 1975, a will could disinherit a spouse; however, since the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 such an attempt can be defeated by a court order if it leaves the surviving spouse (or other entitled dependent) without "reasonable financial provision".
In 1973 an international convention, the Convention providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will, was concluded in the context of UNIDROIT. The Convention provided for a universally recognised code of rules under which a will made anywhere, by any person of any nationality, would be valid and enforceable in every country which became a party to the Convention. These are known as "international wills". Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada (for 9 provinces, not Quebec), Cyprus, Ecuador, France, Italy, Libya, Niger, Portugal Slovenia, The Holy See, Iran, Laos, the Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom, and the United States have signed but not ratified. International wills are only valid where the convention applies. Although the US has not ratified on behalf of any state, the Uniform law has been enacted in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
For individuals who own assets in multiple countries and at least one of those countries are not a part of the Convention, it may be appropriate for the person to have multiple wills, one for each country. In some nations, multiple wills may be useful to reduce or avoid taxes upon the estate and its assets. Care must be taken to avoid accidental revocation of prior wills, conflicts between the wills, to anticipate jurisdictional and choice of law issues that may arise during probate.
Intentional physical destruction of a will by the testator will revoke it, through deliberately burning or tearing the physical document itself, or by striking out the signature. In most jurisdictions, partial revocation is allowed if only part of the text or a particular provision is crossed out. Other jurisdictions will either ignore the attempt or hold that the entire will was actually revoked. A testator may also be able to revoke by the physical act of another (as would be necessary if he or she is physically incapacitated), if this is done in their presence and in the presence of witnesses. Some jurisdictions may presume that a will has been destroyed if it had been last seen in the possession of the testator but is found mutilated or cannot be found after their death.
A will may also be revoked by the execution of a new will. However, most wills contain stock language that expressly revokes any wills that came before them, because otherwise a court will normally still attempt to read the wills together to the extent they are consistent.
In some jurisdictions, the complete revocation of a will automatically revives the next-most recent will, while others hold that revocation leaves the testator with no will, so that their heirs will instead inherit by intestate succession.
In England and Wales, marriage will automatically revoke a will, for it is presumed that upon marriage a testator will want to review the will. A statement in a will that it is made in contemplation of forthcoming marriage to a named person will override this.
Divorce, conversely, will not revoke a will, but in many jurisdictions will have the effect that the former spouse is treated as if they had died before the testator and so will not benefit.
Many jurisdictions exercise an equitable doctrine known as "dependent relative revocation" ("DRR"). Under this doctrine, courts may disregard a revocation that was based on a mistake of law on the part of the testator as to the effect of the revocation. For example, if a testator mistakenly believes that an earlier will can be revived by the revocation of a later will, the court will ignore the later revocation if the later will comes closer to fulfilling the testator's intent than not having a will at all. The doctrine also applies when a testator executes a second, or new will and revokes their old will under the (mistaken) belief that the new will would be valid. However, if for some reason the new will is not valid, a court may apply the doctrine to reinstate and probate the old will, if the court holds that the testator would prefer the old will to intestate succession.
Before applying the doctrine, courts may require (with rare exceptions) that there have been an alternative plan of disposition of the property. That is, after revoking the prior will, the testator could have made an alternative plan of disposition. Such a plan would show that the testator intended the revocation to result in the property going elsewhere, rather than just being a revoked disposition. Secondly, courts require either that the testator have recited their mistake in the terms of the revoking instrument, or that the mistake be established by clear and convincing evidence. For example, when the testator made the original revocation, he must have erroneously noted that he was revoking the gift "because the intended recipient has died" or "because I will enact a new will tomorrow".
DRR may be applied to restore a gift erroneously struck from a will if the intent of the testator was to enlarge that gift, but will not apply to restore such a gift if the intent of the testator was to revoke the gift in favor of another person. For example, suppose Tom has a will that bequeaths $5,000 to his secretary, Alice Johnson. If Tom crosses out that clause and writes "$7,000 to Alice Johnson" in the margin, but does not sign or date the writing in the margin, most states would find that Tom had revoked the earlier provision, but had not effectively amended his will to add the second; however, under DRR the revocation would be undone because Tom was acting under the mistaken belief that he could increase the gift to $7,000 by writing that in the margin. Therefore, Alice will get 5,000 dollars. However, the doctrine of relative revocation will not apply if the interlineation decreases the amount of the gift from the original provision (e.g., "$5,000 to Alice Johnson" is crossed out and replaced with "$3,000 to Alice Johnson" without Testator's signature or the date in the margin; DRR does not apply and Alice Johnson will take nothing).
Similarly, if Tom crosses out that clause and writes in the margin "$5,000 to Betty Smith" without signing or dating the writing, the gift to Alice will be effectively revoked. In this case, it will not be restored under the doctrine of DRR because even though Tom was mistaken about the effectiveness of the gift to Betty, that mistake does not affect Tom's intent to revoke the gift to Alice. Because the gift to Betty will be invalid for lack of proper execution, that $5,000 will go to Tom's residuary estate.
Also referred to as "electing to take against the will". In the United States, many states have probate statutes which permit the surviving spouse of the decedent to choose to receive a particular share of deceased spouse's estate in lieu of receiving the specified share left to him or her under the deceased spouse's will. As a simple example, under Iowa law (see Code of Iowa Section 633.238 (2005)), the deceased spouse leaves a will which expressly devises the marital home to someone other than the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse may elect, contrary to the intent of the will, to live in the home for the remainder of his/her lifetime. This is called a "life estate" and terminates immediately upon the surviving spouse's death.
The historical and social policy purposes of such statutes are to assure that the surviving spouse receives a statutorily set minimum amount of property from the decedent. Historically, these statutes were enacted to prevent the deceased spouse from leaving the survivor destitute, thereby shifting the burden of care to the social welfare system.
In New York, a surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of her deceased spouse's estate. The decedent's debts, administrative expenses and reasonable funeral expenses are paid prior to the calculation of the spousal elective share. The elective share is calculated through the "net estate". The net estate is inclusive of property that passed by the laws of intestacy, testamentary property, and testamentary substitutes, as enumerated in EPTL 5-1.1-A. New York's classification of testamentary substitutes that are included in the net estate make it challenging for a deceased spouse to disinherit their surviving spouse.
In antiquity, Julius Caesar's will, which named his grand-nephew Octavian as his adopted son and heir, funded and legitimized Octavian's rise to political power in the late Republic; it provided him the resources necessary to win the civil wars against the "Liberators" and Antony and to establish the Roman Empire under the name Augustus. Antony's officiating at the public reading of the will led to a riot and moved public opinion against Caesar's assassins. Octavian's illegal publication of Antony's sealed will was an important factor in removing his support within Rome, as it described his wish to be buried in Alexandria beside the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
In the modern era, the Thellusson v Woodford will case led to British legislation against the accumulation of money for later distribution and was fictionalized as Jarndyce and Jarndyce in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. The Nobel Prizes were established by Alfred Nobel's will. Charles Vance Millar's will provoked the Great Stork Derby, as he successfully bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the Toronto-area woman who had the greatest number of children in the ten years after his death. (The prize was divided among four women who had nine, with smaller payments made to women who had borne 10 children but lost some to miscarriage. Another woman who bore ten children was disqualified, for several were illegitimate.)
The longest known legal will is that of Englishwoman Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook. Probated in 1925, it was 1,066 pages, and had to be bound in four volumes; her estate was worth $100,000. The shortest known legal wills are those of Bimla Rishi of Delhi, India ("all to son") and Karl Tausch of Hesse, Germany, ("all to wife") both containing only two words in the language they were written in (Hindi and Czech, respectively). The shortest will is of Shripad Krishnarao Vaidya of Nagpur, Maharashtra, consisting of five letters (“HEIR'S”).
An unusual holographic will, accepted into probate as a valid one, came out of a tragic accident. On 8 June 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, a farmer named Cecil George Harris became trapped under his own tractor. Thinking he would not survive (though found alive later, he died of his injuries in hospital), Harris carved a will into the tractor's fender, which read:
In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.
After the testator has died, an application for probate may be made in a court with probate jurisdiction to determine the validity of the will or wills that the testator may have created, i.e., which will satisfy the legal requirements, and to appoint an executor. In most cases, during probate, at least one witness is called upon to testify or sign a "proof of witness" affidavit. In some jurisdictions, however, statutes may provide requirements for a "self-proving" will (must be met during the execution of the will), in which case witness testimony may be forgone during probate. Often there is a time limit, usually 30 days, within which a will must be admitted to probate. In some jurisdictions, only an original will may be admitted to probate—even the most accurate photocopy will not suffice. Some jurisdictions will admit a copy of a will if the original was lost or accidentally destroyed and the validity of the copy can be proved to the satisfaction of the court.
Bahá’í Administration is a collection of letters and messages from Shoghi Effendi addressed to the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada from 1922 to 1932.Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portuguese: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian), commonly referred to simply as the Gulbenkian Foundation, is a Portuguese institution dedicated to the promotion of the arts, philanthropy, science, and education. One of the wealthiest charitable foundations in the world, the Gulbenkian Foundation was founded on 18 July 1956 according to the last will and testament of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, a Portugal-based oil magnate who bequeathed his assets to the country in the form of a foundation.
The oil magnate had one of the largest private art collections in Europe, which is housed in the foundation's Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. The foundation hosts numerous institutions and initiatives including the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Gulbenkian Science Institute, Gulbenkian Prizes and the Gulbenkian Commission.Guardian (Bahá'í Faith)
The Guardian is a hereditary office of the Bahá'í Faith that is first mentioned in the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi was named as the first Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, and future Guardians were to be appointed from among the male descendants of Bahá'u'lláh. However, since Shoghi Effendi died without having named a successor Guardian, no person could be named to fulfill the position after his death on November 4, 1957, and he remains the only individual acknowledged as Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, but his guidance remains in the written record of his many writings.Judith Quiney
Judith Quiney (baptised 2 February 1585 – 9 February 1662), née Shakespeare, was the younger daughter of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway and the fraternal twin of their only son Hamnet Shakespeare. She married Thomas Quiney, a vintner of Stratford-upon-Avon. The circumstances of the marriage, including Quiney's misconduct, may have prompted the rewriting of Shakespeare's will. Thomas was struck out, while Judith's inheritance was attached with provisions to safeguard it from her husband. The bulk of Shakespeare's estate was left, in an elaborate fee tail, to his elder daughter Susanna and her male heirs.
Judith and Thomas Quiney had three children. By the time of Judith Quiney's death, she had outlived her children by many years. She has been depicted in several works of fiction as part of an attempt to piece together unknown portions of her father's life.Last will and testament of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler signed his last will and testament in the Berlin Führerbunker on 29 April 1945, the day before he committed suicide with his wife Eva (nee) Braun.
The will was a short document stating that they had chosen death over capitulation, and that they were to be cremated; it named Martin Bormann as executor. The testament was in two parts. In the first, he denied charges of warmongering, expressed his thanks to Germany’s loyal citizens, and appealed to them to continue the struggle. In the second, he declared Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring to be traitors, and set out his plan for a new government under Karl Dönitz. Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge recalled that he was reading from notes as he dictated the testament, and it is believed that Joseph Goebbels had helped him to write it.Last will and testament of Herbert Macaulay
The Last Will and Testament of Herbert Macaulay contained instructions from Nigerian nationalist Herbert Macaulay to his family and Nigerians about his last wishes.Letters from Iceland
Letters from Iceland is a travel book in prose and verse by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, published in 1937.
The book is made up of a series of letters and travel notes by Auden and MacNeice written during their trip to Iceland in 1936 compiling light-hearted private jokes and irreverent comments about their surrounding world.
Auden's contributions include the poem "Journey to Iceland"; a prose section "For Tourists"; a five-part verse "Letter to Lord Byron"; a selection of writings on Iceland by other authors, "Sheaves from Sagaland"; a prose letter to "E. M. Auden" (E.M. was Erika Mann), which included his poems "Detective Story" and "O who can ever praise enough"; a prose letter to Kristian Andreirsson, Esq.; a free-verse letter to William Coldstream, and, in collaboration with MacNeice, "W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice: Their Last Will and Testament" (in verse).
MacNeice's contributions include a verse letter to Graham and Anne Shepard; the satiric prose "Hetty to Nancy" (unsigned); a verse Epilogue; and MacNeice's contributions to "W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice: Their Last Will and Testament".
Auden revised his sections of the book for a new edition published in 1966.
The book is mentioned multiple times throughout the 2007 Oscar-nominated film, Away from Her, in which several passages are read aloud during the film.
Letters from Iceland is categorised under the "Inter-war pastorals" style of writing, where poets are attached to an imaginary countryside from where they contemplate people, literature and politics.
The book is considered as a thirties classics.Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca (Italian: [franˈtʃesko peˈtrarka]; July 20, 1304 – July 18/19, 1374), commonly anglicized as Petrarch (), was a scholar and poet of Renaissance Italy who was one of the earliest humanists. His rediscovery of Cicero's letters is often credited with inventing the 14th-century Renaissance. Petrarch is often considered the founder of Humanism. In the 16th century, Pietro Bembo created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch's works, as well as those of Giovanni Boccaccio, and, to a lesser extent, Dante Alighieri. Petrarch would be later endorsed as a model for Italian style by the Accademia della Crusca.
Petrarch's sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. He is also known for being the first to develop the concept of the "Dark Ages."Richard Taliaferro
Richard Taliaferro ( TOL-i-vər; c. 1705–1779) was a colonial architect and builder in Williamsburg, Virginia, in what is now the United States. Among his works is Wythe House, a Georgian-style building that was built in 1750 or 1755. It was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1970. Other works were public buildings, including the Governor's Palace, the Capitol, and the President's House at the College of William & Mary.Richard Taliaferro was born about 1705 to an Anglo-Italian family, the Taliaferros, who had settled in Virginia in the early 17th century from London. He lived most of his adult life at his plantation, Powhatan, in James City County outside Williamsburg. Taliaferro built the Wythe House in Williamsburg for his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, George Wythe. In his 1775 will, he gave them life tenancy in the house upon his death: "In the name of God Amen, I, Richard Taliaferro of the Parish and county of James City, being aged, but of sound mind and memory, do make my last will and testament as forth with. I give and desire my house and lotts in the city of Williamsburg situate on the west side of Palace Street, and on the North side of the Church yard, to my son-in-law Mr. George Wythe and his wife, my daughter Elizabeth during their lives. ...and I do hereby constitute and appoint my Son-in-law the said George Wythe and my said son Richard Taliaferro Executors of this my last will and testament, hereby revoking all former wills by me made."
Taliaferro died in 1779 at the age of 74 "with the gout in his head".Shakespeare's will
William Shakespeare's last will and testament was signed on 25 March 1616, just under a month before his death. The document has been studied for details of his personal life, for his opinions, and for his attitudes towards his two daughters, Susanna and Judith, and their respective husbands, John Hall and Thomas Quiney. The best-known passage of the will is the bequest to the wife of his "second best bed". The significance of this phrase is not certain.
The content of the will has also been studied for clues about Shakespeare's religious beliefs, his health, and his relationship to his colleagues in the London theatre-world.Springfield Presbytery
The Springfield Presbytery was an independent presbytery that became one of the earliest expressions of the Stone-Campbell Movement. It was composed of Presbyterian ministers who withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America on September 10, 1803. It dissolved itself on June 28, 1804, with the publication of a document titled the Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery, marking the birth of the Christian Church of the West.Summer's Last Will and Testament
Summer's Last Will and Testament is an Elizabethan stage play, a comedy written by Thomas Nashe. The play is notable for breaking new ground in the development of English Renaissance drama: "No earlier English comedy has anything like the intellectual content or the social relevance that it has."Although Nashe is known as an Elizabethan playwright, Summer's Last Will and Testament is his only extant solo-authored play; his other surviving dramatic work, Dido, Queen of Carthage, is a collaboration with Christopher Marlowe, in which Nashe's role was probably very minimal.Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
The Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are selected tablets written by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, and published together as of 1978. The current edition bears the title Fountain of Wisdom: A Collection of Writings from Bahá'u'lláh.
As his mission drew to a close after his writing of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in 1873, he continued to write unnumbered tablets and letters, doing so until the last days of his life in 1892.
Six of the tablets in this volume were translated into English and published in 1917. The translations were improved upon by Shoghi Effendi, and those not translated by him were filled in with the publication in 1978 under the supervision of the Universal House of Justice.Tablets of the Divine Plan
The Tablets of the Divine Plan collectively refers to 14 letters (tablets) written between March 1916 and March 1917 by `Abdu'l-Bahá to Bahá'ís in the United States and Canada. Included in multiple books, the first five tablets were printed in America in Star of the West - Vol. VII, No. 10, September 8, 1916, and all the tablets again after World War I in Vol. IX, No. 14, November 23, 1918, before being presented again at the Ridván meeting of 1919.Four of the letters were addressed to the Bahá’í community of North America and ten subsidiary ones were addressed to five specific segments of that community. Of primary significance was the role of leadership given to its recipients in establishing their cause throughout the planet by pioneering - introducing the religion into the many countries and regions and islands mentioned.
These collective letters, along with Bahá'u'lláh’s Tablet of Carmel and `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament were described by Shoghi Effendi as three of the "Charters" of the Bahá'í Faith.Testament of Pope John Paul II
The Testament of Pope John Paul II is a document written by Pope John Paul II, and is similar to a civilian last will and testament. It was modeled on the Testament of Pope Paul VI.
The document, written in the Polish language, contains an explanation of several decisions made by Pope John Paul II as to the disposal of his estate and personal belongings of value. It was read before the College of Cardinals by Camerlengo Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Dean of the College of Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI on 19 April 2005), before the funeral of Pope John Paul II. It was released to the public on April 7, 2005.Testator
A testator () is a person who has written and executed a last will and testament that is in effect at the time of his/her death. It is any "person who makes a will."Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá
A seminal document, written in three stages by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Several sections were written under imminent threat of harm. The first section was probably written in 1906.
This document constitutes one of the central and defining pieces of Bahá'í primary source literature, and is considered to be intimately connected to Bahá'u'lláh's ('Abdu'l-Bahá's father) Most Holy Book.
The Will and Testament, along with the Tablets of the Divine Plan and the Tablet of Carmel, were described by Shoghi Effendi as the charters of the Bahá'í administration.
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