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Do the movies depict wills accurately?

If you haven't yet engaged in the important act of estate planning, chances are that much of your knowledge of wills comes from television or movies. Those depictions are full of dramatic details that serve more to drive story lines than offer good legal interpretations. Real-life wills do have some things in common with situations depicted in movies, though.

Basically, a will tells heirs and others about your wishes, and that's mostly what they are used for in fiction, too. Wills aren't just a document that records your wishes for posterity; they are a legal document that creates a law-backed provision that your wishes will be carried out.

In many movies and television shows, wills are used to distribute assets to heirs. In real life, wills can also be used to define how you will be cared for medically should you become incapacitated. Wills that make these definitions are called living wills.

Sometimes, the story line in a movie or television show revolves around whether a will or other estate-related document is valid. Characters might argue that the person was not in an able state of mind to create the document when he or she did -- or even that the person didn't sign the document themselves. In reality, these situations occur, too, albeit often with less courtroom drama. To ensure your will sticks, you have to follow a number of legal requirements, especially in signing the document and having it appropriated witnessed by others.

In some story lines, no will exists. In others, a will isn't immediately found. Either situation leads to drama as fictional heirs fight over assets or worry about whether they can keep ancestral homes. These issues also come up in real life. Without a will, a probate court divides your assets up according to the law. Without a will that anyone knows about, the same thing might happen. Working now to draft a legal will and ensure it is properly handled helps you reduce the stress of drama on your heirs.

Source: Investopedia, "What Is A Will And Why Do I Need One?," Lisa Smith, accessed Sep. 22, 2015

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