Having a will is essential to protect your family and your assets. With a will, you decide who handles your estate, inherits your property, and cares for your young children. You may have questions about how to make a will in Alaska. We have the answers to your frequently asked questions about Alaska wills.
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What If I Die Without a Will in Alaska?
When a person with a will dies, their will outlines how to distribute personal property, real estate, and assets to their loved ones. But if a decedent does not have a will, they die “intestate,” and the probate court follows intestacy laws to distribute the estate to family members.
Under Alaskan intestate succession law, if there is a surviving spouse or children, they inherit the estate. If not, the next of kin (parents, siblings, or grandparents) inherit. If no next of kin exists or the court can’t find them, the state of Alaska keeps your property.
So, if you have a partner but are not married or a stepchild that you have not adopted, they may be left out of your estate entirely. By making a will, you ensure your property goes to your loved ones, not the state of Alaska.
What Does a Will Do?
An Alaskan last will and testament lets you name who manages your estate, receives your property, and cares for your minor children. Here are some general provisions you might want to include in your will:
- Name a personal representative or executor. Your personal representative submits your will to the judicial district where you lived at the time of your death. For example, if you lived in Juneau, it is the first district. If you lived in Fairbanks, it is the fourth district. Your personal representative also locates your assets and follows the instructions in your will.
- Identify and give specific items of personal property and real property (real estate) to your beneficiaries
- Name guardians for your minor children
- Name caregivers for pets and give money for their care
- Make charitable donations
Having a will streamlines the probate process. Because you made these decisions beforehand, a court does not have to, which saves your loved ones time and money in probate court.
What Doesn’t a Will Do?
Although you give away property in your will, there are assets and accounts that transfer outside your will. These “non-probate” assets go to the beneficiaries you name in legal documents. For example, you may have a bank account with a transfer-on-death beneficiary or a named beneficiary on a life insurance policy. These types of non-probate assets may include:
- Money in payable-on-death or transfer-on-death bank accounts or investment accounts
- Retirement accounts, pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs, and Keoghs
- Life insurance and annuity proceeds (to beneficiaries other than to the estate itself)
- Property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
- Property owned by trusts, including living trusts and irrevocable trusts
It is a good idea to check your accounts and policies to make sure you have the correct beneficiary designations. And also name a backup beneficiary in case your primary beneficiary dies before you. Any assets or accounts without a beneficiary go back into your probate estate.
Who Can Make a Will in Alaska?
Under Alaska law, the person making a will (the testator) must meet the following requirements.
- Age: The testator is at least 18 years of age.
- Sound Mind: The testator has a sound mind. The test of a sound mind is that the testator understands they are making a will, knows what property they own and who their natural beneficiaries are, and have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of their actions.
A testator must have a sound mind when they sign their will. Alaska residents with concerns about whether they can make a will should consult with an estate planning attorney for legal advice.
Does Alaska Have a Statutory Will?
No. Alaska does not have a statutory will. You can either hire an attorney or create one yourself. Many people wanting to do it themselves use online legal resources, such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services, that follow Alaska law.
What Types of Wills Does Alaska Accept?
Typically, most wills are typewritten or printed and then signed by the testator. However, Alaska allows other types of wills.
- Handwritten Will: A handwritten or holographic will is a will that the testator writes in their own handwriting but does not have any witnesses attesting to their signature. Under Alaska law, a holographic will is acceptable if the signature and material portions of the document are in the testator’s own handwriting.
- Oral Will: An oral will, called nuncupative will, is a spoken will. Alaska does not accept oral wills, only written ones.
- Electronic Will: An electronic will refers to creating, signing, or witnessing of a will through electronic means. Alaska does not accept electronic wills but allows notaries to perform remote notarizations through two-way audio-visual technology.
Most testators type or print their will and sign before two witnesses and a notary. This method helps prevent challenges to your will based on fraud, mistake, or undue influence claims.
Can I Make My Own Will in Alaska?
Yes. Alaska does not require that you use an attorney to create your will. If you know what property you have and who you want to receive it, you are ready to make your will. The benefit of using a form service company, such as FindLaw Legal Forms and Services, is that you can customize your will to your needs and update it through the years. Creating a new will is easier than amending or adding a codicil to the original will. However, if you have a complicated estate you may wish to seek legal advice. For example, if you have a high net worth and are concerned about estate tax liability or have a child with special needs and want a trust, you might want to talk to an attorney about your options.
How Do I Make My Will Valid in Alaska?
You must take a few steps to make your will valid in Alaska.
- Signature: The testator must sign the will or direct someone else to sign for them in their conscious presence.
- Witnesses: Two competent witnesses must be in the testator’s presence when the testator signs their will. A competent witness generally means someone who is able to be a witness in court. Many states prohibit interested witnesses. An interested witness is a witness who is also a beneficiary under the will. Although Alaska allows interested witnesses, it is good practice to avoid them. You do not want your will challenged due to the undue influence of any interested party.
- Notary: Alaska does not require a testator to use a notary public to attest to their signature. However, you may use an optional self-proving affidavit requiring a notary’s signature.
- Self-Proving Affidavit: You can use a self-proving affidavit with your will in Alaska. The affidavit is a statement your witnesses sign when you execute your will, and the notary signs the affidavit. The benefit of this affidavit is that your will becomes self-proving and is evidence that you signed your will properly. Your witnesses do not have to testify in probate court.
Can I Disinherit My Spouse in Alaska?
You do not have to provide for your spouse in your will. However, they may receive up to one-third of your estate if they did not waive their right to claim an elective share in a premarital agreement. An elective share is a portion of a decedent’s estate that a spouse may claim if left out of the will.
Can I Disinherit My Children in Alaska?
A child does not have the right to inherit from you. However, if a child is born or adopted after you sign their will, they may be entitled to receive a share of your property if the court thinks you omitted them by mistake. If you intend to disinherit a child, you should specifically mention their disinheritance in your will.
What Estate Planning Documents Should I Have in Alaska?
A will is a necessary legal document that helps your family after your death. However, other estate planning documents are helpful to you and your family throughout your life.
- Power of Attorney. A power of attorney allows you to name someone you trust to manage your financial life when you cannot. Your agent has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interest. You decide what powers to grant your agent and when their authority begins and ends.
- Health Care Directive. A living will or advance health care directive allows you to give instructions for your end-of-life care and treatment, including life-prolonging measures. You can also name a healthcare agent in your living will. Your health care agent is someone you trust to access your medical information and make health care decisions when you can’t speak for yourself.
Fortunately, making a valid will and creating other Alaska estate planning documents is easy with online estate planning templates.