A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.
In the strictest sense, a “will” has historically been 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”), though this distinction is seldom observed today. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.
Any person over the age of majority and of sound mind (having appropriate mental capacity) can draft his or her own will with or without the aid of a lawyer. Additional requirements may vary, depending on the jurisdiction, but generally include the following requirements:
The testator must clearly identify himself or herself as the maker of the will, and that a will is being made; this is commonly called “publication” of the will, and is typically satisfied by the words “last will and testament” on the face of the document.
The testator should declare that he or she revokes all previous wills and codicils. Otherwise, a subsequent will revokes earlier wills and codicils only to the extent to which they are inconsistent. However, if a subsequent will is completely inconsistent with an earlier one, the earlier will is considered completely revoked by implication.
The testator may demonstrate that he or she has the capacity to dispose of his or her property (“sound mind”), and does so freely and willingly.
The testator must sign and date the will, usually in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses (persons who are not beneficiaries). There may be extra witnesses, these are called “supernumerary” witnesses, if there is a question as to an interested-party conflict. Some jurisdictions, notably Pennsylvania, have long abolished any requirement for witnesses. In the United States, Louisiana requires both attestation by two witnesses as well as notarization by a notary public. “Holographic” or handwritten wills generally require no witnesses to be valid.
If witnesses are designated to receive property under the will they are witnesses to, this has the effect, in many jurisdictions, of either (i) disallowing them to receive under the will, or (ii) invalidating their status as a witness. In a growing number of states in the United States, however, an interested party is only an improper witness as to the clauses that benefit him or her (for instance, in Illinois).
The testator’s signature must be placed at the end of the will. If this is not observed, any text following the signature will be ignored, or the entire will may be invalidated if what comes after the signature is so material that ignoring it would defeat the testator’s intentions.
One or more beneficiaries (devisees, legatees) must generally be clearly stated in the text, but some jurisdictions allow a valid will that merely revokes a previous will, revokes a disposition in a previous will, or names an executor.
First explored for Spain by Hernando de Soto, who discovered the Mississippi River in 1540, the region was later claimed by France. In 1699, a French group under Sieur d’Iberville established the first permanent settlement near present-day Ocean Springs.
Great Britain took over the area in 1763 after the French and Indian Wars, ceding it to the U.S. in 1783 after the Revolution. Spain did not relinquish its claims until 1798, and in 1810 the U.S. annexed West Florida from Spain, including what is now southern Mississippi.
For a little more than one hundred years, from shortly after the state’s founding through the Great Depression, cotton was the undisputed king of Mississippi’s largely agrarian economy. Over the last half-century, however, Mississippi has diversified its economy by balancing agricultural output with increased industrial activity.
Today, agriculture continues as a major segment of the state’s economy. For almost four decades soybeans occupied the most acreage, while cotton remained the largest cash crop. In 2001, however, more acres of cotton were planted than soybeans, and Mississippi jumped to second in the nation in cotton production (exceeded only by Texas). The state’s farmlands also yield important harvests of corn, peanuts, pecans, rice, sugar cane, and sweet potatoes as well as poultry, eggs, meat animals, dairy products, feed crops, and horticultural crops. Mississippi remains the world’s leading producer of pond-raised catfish.
The state abounds in historical landmarks and is the home of the Vicksburg National Military Park. Other National Park Service areas are Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, Tupelo National Battlefield, and part of Natchez Trace National Parkway. Pre–Civil War mansions are the special pride of Natchez, Oxford, Columbus, Vicksburg, and Jackson.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Mississippi was hit by Hurricane Katrina, killing hundreds, mostly in Harrison County.