Who Can and Cannot Witness a Will?

A will is notarized

A will is an important part of your financial plan. When you create a will and testament, you’re creating a legal document that determines how your assets will be distributed once you pass away. You can also use a will to name legal guardians for minor children. When making a will and testament, it’s important to follow the rules in your state to ensure the will is valid. One of those rules centers on the requirements for witnesses. For more guidance on the intricacies of wills and estate planning, consider enlisting the services of an expert financial advisor.

Why Wills Need to Be Witnessed

A will is a legal document but in order for it to be binding, there are certain requirements that need to be met. For instance, although state laws regarding wills vary, states generally require you to be of legal adult age to make a will. You must also have testamentary capacity, meaning you:

  • Must understand the extent and value of the property you’re including in the will
  • Are aware that you’re making a will to decide who will inherit your assets
  • Aren’t acting under duress in making the will

Having someone witness your will matters in case questions are raised over its validity later or there is a will contest. For example, if one of your heirs challenges the terms of your will a witness may be called upon in court to attest that they watched you sign the will and that you appeared to be of sound mind when you did so.

In other words, witnesses add another layer of validity to a will. If all the people who witnessed the signing of a will are in agreement about your intent and mental state when you made it, then it becomes harder for someone else to dispute its legality.

Who Can Witness a Will?

When drafting a will, it’s important to understand several requirements, including who can serve as a witness. Generally, anyone can witness a will as long as they meet two requirements:

  • They’re of legal adult age (i.e. 18 or 19 in certain states)
  • They don’t have a direct interest in the will

The kinds of people who could witness a will for you include:

  • Friends who are not set to receive anything from your estate
  • Neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Relatives who are not included in your will, such as cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.
  • Your doctor

If you’ve hired an attorney to help you draft your will, they could also act as a witness as long as they’re not named as a beneficiary. An attorney who’s also acting as the executor of the will, meaning the person who oversees the process of distributing your assets and paying off any outstanding debts owed by your estate, can witness a will.

Who Cannot Witness a Will?

Two minors looking out a windowStates generally prohibit you from choosing people who stand to benefit from your will as witnesses. So for example, if you’re drafting a will that leaves assets to your spouse, children, siblings or parents, none of them would be able to witness the will’s signing since they all have an interest in the will’s terms. Will-making rules can also exclude relatives or spouses of any of your beneficiaries. For instance, say you plan to leave money in your will to your sister and her husband with the sister being the executor. Your sister can’t be a witness to the will since she’s a direct beneficiary. And since her husband has an indirect interest in the terms of the will through her, he wouldn’t qualify as a witness either.

But married couples can witness a will together, as long as they don’t have an interest in it. So, you could ask the couple that lives next door to you or a couple you know at work to act as witnesses to your will.

You may also run into challenges if you’re asking someone who has a mental impairment or a visual impairment to witness your will. State will laws generally require that the persons witnessing a will be able to see the document clearly and have the mental capacity to understand what their responsibilities are as a witness.

Note that the witnesses don’t need to read the entire will document to sign it. But they do need to be able to verify that the document exists, that you’ve signed it in their presence and that they’ve signed it in front of you.

How to Choose Witnesses for a Will

If you’re in the process of drafting a will, it’s important to give some thought to who you’ll ask to witness it. It may help to make two lists: one of the potential candidates who can witness a will and another of the people who cannot act as witnesses because they have an interest in the will.

You should have at least two people who are willing to witness your will signing. This is the minimum number of witnesses required by state will-making laws. Generally, the people you choose should be:

  • Responsible and trustworthy
  • Age 18 or older
  • Younger than you (to avoid challenges presented if a witness passes away)
  • Free of any interest in the will, either directly or indirectly
  • Willing to testify to the will’s validity if it’s ever challenged

When it’s time to sign the will, you’ll need to bring both of your witnesses together at the same time. You’ll need to sign, initial and date the will in ink, then have your witnesses do the same. You may also choose to attach a self-proving affidavit or have the will notarized in front of the witnesses.

A self-proving affidavit is a statement that attests to the validity of the will. If you include this statement, then you and your witnesses must sign and date it as well. Once the will is signed and deemed valid, store it in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box. You may also want to make a copy for your attorney to keep in case the original will is damaged or destroyed.

The Bottom Line

A last will and testamentMaking a will can be a fairly simple task if you don’t have a complicated estate; it can even be done online in some situations. If you have significant assets to distribute to your beneficiaries or you need to make arrangements for the care of minor children, talking with an estate planning attorney can help you shape your will accordingly. Choosing witnesses to your will is the final piece of the puzzle in ensuring that it’s signed and legally valid.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about will-making, trusts and how to create a financial legacy for your loved ones. If you don’t have a financial advisor, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in just a few minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • A will is just one document you can include in your estate plan. You may also opt to establish a living trust to manage assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, set up a durable power of attorney and create an advance healthcare directive. A trust can help you avoid probate while potentially minimizing estate taxes.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/djedzura, ©iStock.com/SanyaSM, ©iStock.com/Spanic

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What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

‘CBS Sunday Morning’ Host Jane Pauley Sells Hudson River Retreat for $6.3M

Jane Pauley Palisades HomeGilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

The host of “CBS Sunday Morning,” Jane Pauley, has hosted a sale of her Palisades, NY, retreat for $6.3 million.

Pauley and her husband, Garry Trudeau, the creator of the comic strip “Doonesbury,” profited from their investment. The couple purchased the picturesque property for $2.3 million in 2015, real estate records show. They successfully sold the home in July.

Known as the “House in the Woods,” the four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom, Tudor-style stone cottage offers scenic views of the Hudson River. Completed in the 1920s, with over 3,100 square feet of interior space, the waterfront abode had been off market when it was quietly sold.

Jane Pauley’s Hudson River home

realtor.com

While scant details are available, we do have some information from earlier occasions when the vacation getaway popped up on the market.

The small home comes with big names attached to it. The author John Steinbeck called the place home in the 1940s, as did the filmmaker Orson Welles and the English stage and screen stars Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. 

The private enclave where the home is located, Sneden’s Landing, is less than an hour from Manhattan and has attracted notable residents for decades.

Other A-list residents in the Hudson River hamlet have included Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Al Pacino. Scarlett Johansson reportedly bought a home in the village in 2018, and Angelina Jolie spent some of her childhood years there.

The original owners were apparently inspired by homes they saw on a trip through the French countryside, according to a previous listing description.

Hand-built with stone, brick, and mortar, the house features chestnut wood plank floors made from trees on the property. Other details include three fireplaces, leaded glass windows, and a slate roof. Two large millstones have been incorporated into the stone fireplace.

Surely, this haven for Hollywood will continue to be a draw. On a bluff over the Hudson River, the country hideaway is close enough to the city for a quick escape from urban life. Potentially, the new owner might be able to add to the 2.4-acre property.

Pauley, a long-time broadcast journalist, anchors “CBS Sunday Morning.” Previously, the Emmy-Award winner held a position with NBC’s “Today” show, and she has also co-hosted “Dateline.”

Trudeau, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Doonesbury” in 1975, also executive produces the Amazon Studios series “Alpha House.”

The post ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ Host Jane Pauley Sells Hudson River Retreat for $6.3M appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

What Is Title Insurance, and How Much Does Title Insurance Cost?

title insurancebarisonal/iStock.com

Buying a home often entails also buying various types of insurance to protect your property, and one type you might need to get is called title insurance.

When you buy a home, you “take title” to it and establish legal ownership. A title insurance policy protects you against the possibility that someone else might have a claim on your home. In essence, it ensures that a homeowner and their lender will be okay in the event that the seller or previous owners didn’t have absolute ownership of the house. (It sounds crazy, but sometimes it turns out that the homeowner is not the only one with rights to a home!)

If you need a mortgage to buy real estate, your lender will likely require you to buy a title policy from a title insurance company. Although it’s a cost home buyers incur, getting a title policy from a title insurance company is critical to establishing peace of mind.

Let’s examine the ins and outs of title insurance, why home buyers need it, how much you can expect to pay, and how you can save on a title insurance policy.

What is title insurance?

Holding a title insurance policy means you and your mortgage lender are protected against any financial loss or title issues due to liens, disputes between prior owners over wills, clerical problems in courthouse documents, or fraudulent claims against the property or forged signatures.

A title search will be performed by your title or settlement company to uncover any issues with your title that could give you legal troubles down the line.

The title company then insures your claim to the property’s title. If anything is missed during the search or there are lawsuits questioning your legal ownership of the property after closing, your title insurance policy will cover the costs of resolving the problem.

Why a title search is required with a mortgage

When getting a mortgage to buy real estate, you’ll find that most lenders will typically require that you get a title search before you close the deal with your escrow company. Basically this would mean you’ll have to hire a title company to search local records on your property. Some of the issues they’re looking for include the following:

  • Disputes between prior owners over wills: If your property was inherited and then sold by the heirs, there could be other heirs contesting the will and claiming ownership of your property.
  • Liens for unpaid property taxes.
  • Liens for contractors who worked on the home but were never paid.
  • Clerical problems in courthouse documents: Believe it or not, a simple typo can lead to title claim problems.
  • Fraudulent claims against the property or forged signatures: For example, if a group of heirs can’t get a holdout to agree to sell the home, it’s possible that someone will forge a signature on a quit claim deed.

While most homeowners will never need to use their title insurance, its existence offers protection against a potentially aggravating—and very expensive—financial loss.

Lender’s title insurance vs. owner’s title insurance

There are two types of title insurance: lender’s and owner’s. Almost every lender will require you to pay for a lender’s title insurance policy. This protects the lender—not you—from incurring any costs if a title dispute pops up after closing.

Owner’s title insurance is usually optional, but it’s highly recommended. Without it, you’ll be left footing the bill for all the costs of resolving a title claim, which could be thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even though it can feel like you’re hemorrhaging cash when you’re closing on a house, a title insurance policy is one of those things that can save you money in the long run.

“When you consider the benefits of title insurance and some of the unique aspects of title insurance relative to other kinds of insurance, it is clear why it’s risky and ill-advised to purchase real estate without a title insurance policy,” says Brian Tormey of TitleVest in New York City.

You can purchase basic or enhanced owner’s title insurance, with the enhanced insurance policy offering more coverage for things like mechanic’s liens or boundary disputes.

While your title insurance covers you for things such as mistakes in the legal description of your property or human error, be aware that it will have some exclusions—particularly in cases where violations of building codes occur after you bought your home.

How much does title insurance cost?

The average cost of title insurance is around $1,000 per policy, but that amount varies widely from state to state and depends on the price of your home.

Title insurance premiums can vary from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. Some factors that can affect the cost of your premium include the title search, examination, and expected cost of any title defects.

“In general, each policy price is based on the purchase amount of the home or the total amount of the loan,” explains Tormey. “Title insurance is a highly regulated industry, so title insurance policy types and costs will vary from state to state. Each state’s Department of Insurance can provide information on the pricing regulations in their state.”

In some states such as Texas and Florida, title insurance premiums are fixed by the government, so you will pay exactly the same amount no matter what. Other states such as California and New Mexico have unfixed premiums, which means that buyers can shop around. Iowa actually underwrites the insurance itself, resulting in the lowest premiums in the country: $110 for properties costing up to $500,000.

Unlike other types of insurance, a title insurance policy is paid with a single premium during escrow while closing for your mortgage. If you’re buying a real estate resale or refinancing, you may be eligible for a “reissue” rate, which could offer a substantial discount off the regular premium—because the title policy is already in effect, and the title research has already been completed.

Here’s a calculator that can help you figure out the cost for your area and purchase price.

How to save on title insurance

In some states, title insurance premiums are the same no matter who you work with, but in the majority of states, you can save money by shopping around. Even in states with highly regulated title insurance industries, there are ways to save. Here are some ways to lower your title insurance costs.

  • Shop around. If premiums are unregulated in your state, find the company that offers the best deals. Just make sure you’re not sacrificing customer service to save a few dollars: Resolving a title issue can be stressful, and you want a company that will help you through the process. Read reviews and talk to your real estate agent for recommendations.
  • Bundle. Some companies will offer a discount if you bundle your lender’s and owner’s policies.
  • Negotiate add-ons. Even if the premium itself is fixed, there are almost always other fees built into your total premium price. See if there is any wiggle room with those items. They may be optional, or the insurance company might be open to discounting them.
  • Negotiate with the seller. Closing costs are always open to negotiation, and picking up the tab for the title insurance might be worth it to a seller who’s highly motivated to close the deal. But be wary of using this tactic in a competitive market.

 

Michele Lerner contributed to this article.

The post What Is Title Insurance, and How Much Does Title Insurance Cost? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.

This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealing—a lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.

However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.

No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.

Be prepared for a higher interest rate

But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.

“Over time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,” says DiBugnara. “If no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, ‘What is my rate if I pay the fees?’”

Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.

“Closing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,” he explains. “On a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.”

So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.

Consider the life of the loan

And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.

“No-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I don’t think it’s a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,” says Jack Choros of CPI Inflation Calculator.

A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.

“If I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.”

What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?

As with any large purchase, whether it’s a car or computer, there’s no flat “this is it” price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.

“Most of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,” says DiBugnara. “Also, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.”

“All other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,” adds Yates.

It’s important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.

“Deposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,” says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. “Most fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.”

When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?

For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but don’t mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.

“If your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,” says DiBugnara. “If your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.”

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Source: realtor.com