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Getting financial and personal affairs in order often includes the creation of a will. The person who creates a will is known as the testator. Generally, the will directs how to distribute and dispose of the testator's property. A female who leaves a valid will is referred to as a testatrix.
Used since the 15th century, the –trix ending creates a feminine noun corresponding to the masculine noun ending in –tor. Applying this rule, aviator becomes aviatrix, legislator becomes legislatrix, and so on. Over time, the female versions have been dropped from use and the masculine nouns have come to mean both male and female.
Some legal documents continue to use the terms testatrix, executrix, and inheritrix when referring to women, but the words are rarely used. The term testatrix was widely used when it was unusual for women to own property. Because most women did not own property, they had no need to write a will directing how to dispose of property after their death.
There are several general requirements for a will to be valid. The testatrix must clearly identify herself and state that a will is being made. This is usually done in the first few lines of the document and includes the words "last will and testament." The will must also revoke all previous wills and codicils.
In order to dispose of property, the testatrix must demonstrate that she has authority to dispose of her property and that she is doing it voluntarily. The will must be signed and dated. Often the signatures of two witnesses are also required. A holographic will — one written out by hand by the testatrix — is the only kind that may not require witnesses.
Generally, a valid will can be drawn up without the help of a lawyer, but several pitfalls can be avoided by having a lawyer assist in the process. A common mistake is made in choosing witnesses — a beneficiary of the will cannot be a witness. Using someone who stands to benefit from the will as a witness can invalidate the entire will.
An heir or heirs must be clearly stated in the will. It is also desirable for the testatrix to appoint an executor for the will. Choosing the executor ensures the estate is managed and disposed of in accordance with her directions. The right executor and a clearly written last will and testament will ensure that her wishes are legally carried out.
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