Last Will and Testament

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A last will and testament is a legal document outlining how you wish an executor to distribute your assets and property to your beneficiaries after your death. The last will is essential because it ensures that a probate court divides your estate and bequeaths assets to those you wish to inherit them. Easily customize and download this last will and testament to establish your needs.

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Template Description

Everyone benefits from having a last will and testament. This legal document details how your assets and property will be distributed at death, ensuring your final wishes are carried out. However, writing a will can be complicated, and it must adhere to state law to be considered valid.

If you need to write a will, you’re in the right place. You’ll find our printable last will and testament PDF agreement available to download on this page. Click Create & Download, complete the blank sections, and sign the document to make it legally binding. We also run through everything else you need to know about wills, so you can ensure your wishes are carried out after you die.

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

men discussing the will

A last will and testament is a legal document that outlines how a person wishes an executor to distribute certain assets and property to named beneficiaries after their death. The beneficiaries are the people who will inherit assets after the person dies. The role of the executor is to:

  • Locate the original and most recent will of the deceased;

  • Identify and gather the assets of the estate;

  • File an inventory of the estate’s assets in court according to state rules;

  • Ascertain the value of the assets;

  • Undertake a title search for any real property belonging to the deceased and determine if there are any encumbrances connected to the property;

  • Protect the assets pending distribution to beneficiaries;

  • Reach out to the beneficiaries and notify them of the intention to probate the will;

  • Ascertain if there are any public or private pensions payable to the estate and pursue the relevant claims procedure;

  • Inform the appropriate government agencies of the death; and

  • Distribute the assets.

Insight

Also, an executor of the will is in charge of specific financial operations, such as:

  • Notifying banks, credit unions, trust companies, or any other financial institution where the deceased held an account.
  • Determining if the deceased had an insurance policy and submitting a claim if the proceeds are payable to the estate.
  • Paying cash legacies as outlined in the will and oversee the transfer of personal effects to the appropriate individuals.
  • Paying any debts and liabilities owed by the estate.
  • Filing the appropriate tax returns for the deceased.

If any beneficiaries are minors, the last will and testament will be used to appoint a guardian responsible for their upbringing until they become legal adults. The guardian can make decisions for the child (such as which school the child will attend) and manage the child’s finances.

Parties of the Last Will & Testament

There are several parties involved in a will, and it is important to understand the role of each when writing your last will and testament:

  • Testator –– The person writing the will and giving away their assets to the beneficiaries.
  • Beneficiaries –– The individuals or organizations named in the will who will receive one or more of the assets from the testator’s estate.
  • Executor or Personal Representative –– The person given the responsibility to carry out the wishes of the testator and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries at the point of death.
  • Trustee or Custodian –– The person who will manage assets given to a beneficiary set to receive the property at a later date (often the case with children who are beneficiaries).
  • Legal Guardian –– The person that the testator chooses to care for any dependent children left without a living parent after the testator dies.
Warning

If a person dies intestate, or without a will, his/her estate, including the distribution of all assets, is settled by the courts.

Key Terms

There are several other unusual terms you might come across when trying to write a last will and testament. Here is a look at the key terms to be aware of:

  • Bequeath –– Another word for “give” that is used when leaving property to a beneficiary.
  • Bequest –– A gift of any personal property (property that isn’t real estate) at the point of death.
  • Heir –– The person who automatically receives ownership of the property after death when there is no last will and testament in place.
  • Intangible Property –– Assets that cannot be seen or distributed physically to beneficiaries: copyrights, patents, etc.
  • Personal Property –– All assets that are not real estate property.
  • Real Property –– Any real estate property, including land and houses.
  • Residuary Estate –– Any property that is not specifically distributed in the will. Often used after distributing personal items to specific beneficiaries, then leaving the “residue estate” to X.
Warning

It's recommended to consider your assets and include a provision for everything that you wish to distribute to your beneficiaries. It is also suggested to provide some “what-if” provisions for circumstances in which a named beneficiary cannot inherit as intended (e.g., the beneficiary has died).

Why Is a Last Will & Testament Important?

A last will and testament contract is essential for ensuring that a probate court will divide a person’s estate according to their wishes. The document allows people to bequeath assets to their loved ones. In the case of minors, a will enables a parent to designate trusted guardians over them. 

Insight

Overall, the last will and testament will save family members from stress and possible disagreements that may arise from trying to figure out how to divide a loved one’s estate.

Who Needs a Last Will & Testament?

Any person over the age of 18 who has any sort of investments, assets, real property, or dependents should have a will. A properly created last will and testament is the best way to protect the people and things you care about.

What Should Be Included in a Will?

You can download this last will and testament template on Lawrina to prepare a legally binding document, especially if you have a modest estate. However, if your estate is of a higher value, you may want to consider involving legal counsel to review your will and offer advice on any legal implications. In your will, you will include all of the following, if applicable:

  1. Personal Information
    Include a declaration that the testator is a legal adult of sound mind. Ensure that the statement revokes any other will that you may have previously created and mention that you make the document without any undue influence.

  2. Appointment of an Executor
    The executor is responsible for implementing all aspects of your last will and testament. Give the executor the prerogative to make necessary adjustments, such as paying off debts and funeral expenses, before bequeathing the assets to your beneficiaries. It can be helpful not to appoint a beneficiary as executor but, rather, a trusted licensed attorney.

  3. Assets, Bequests, and Requests
    Alongside property and assets, this section also lists a person’s debts. According to your wishes, your beneficiaries will divide your assets after settling any debt and funeral expenses. Some wills provide that beneficiaries must survive (be alive or existing in the case of a company) the testator for a certain number of days before they become eligible to receive their inheritance.

    If you have any special preferences, such as how you wish the executor to handle your funeral or remains, make them known in this section.

  4. Designated guardians (if any)
    In this section, if applicable, appoint legal guardians of your underage children in case you die as the sole parent. Only include this section if you have minor children or other dependents.

  5. Signed Witnesses
    Review your state laws and requirements and include a section for your signature and the signatures of two witnesses. Most states require at least two signatures from credible witnesses, with the exception of Pennsylvania. We have summarized the laws for each state further down this page, so refer to this when signing your will into law.

**Please consider that this is a non-exhaustive list and these are the standard terms for the contract.**

How To Write a Last Will and Testament

Once you have the last will and testament form, provide the variable information while taking special care to provide the current legal names of individuals you wish to name as the executor, guardians, or beneficiaries. Gather the details of all your properties and assets in advance to make filling out the information easier.

1. Add Personal Information

Proceed to fill in the relevant descriptive information about yourself, including:

  • Name and address;

  • Marital status; and

  • Number of children and their dates of birth.

2. Add Executor Information

The next section of the last will and testament example is the appointment of an executor. Name the individual or company that you wish to be the executor and representative of your estate. Provide an alternative executor who should step in if circumstances bar the first-named executor from fulfilling the role.

3. List Your Assets

List the assets that you own when preparing your will. This list should include anything of value and can be anywhere from general, such as naming a collection of items, or specific, such as naming each piece of jewelry or property.

4. Add Designated Guardians

Provide the legal names and addresses of at least two potential guardians who will take over care for your dependents. The first person (or couple) named is your first choice for guardian, and the second named is your second choice in case the first is unwilling or unable.

5. Outline Your Bequests and Requests

If you have only one inheritor, consider providing the name of a second person in case the first person does not survive you. Ensure that you assign specific assets to appropriate individuals. List the beneficiaries’ current legal names and addresses.

6. Signed Witnesses

Sign the will and allow two witnesses to also sign the document after seeing you sign it. The document’s signing should be in your presence and ideally on the same day you sign it. However, some states have different time restrictions on when signatures are required. Consult a lawyer if you need legal advice.

When To Change or Revise Your Last Will & Testament

Below are some examples of major life events that might require you to update your will:

  • You have a new child or become a grandparent;

  • Your marital status changes (married, divorced, or widowed);

  • Your wealth and assets suddenly increase in value;

  • Your assets suddenly decrease in value;

  • You move to a different state in the US;

  • Your health deteriorates or you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness;

  • You fall out with a beneficiary and wish to remove them from your will.

Insight

It is advisable to write a will and last testament at a young age so that your property is distributed as per your wishes in the unlikely event of early death. However, it is essential to update your will every three to five years. You should also review your will after major life changes, e.g. a marriage, divorce, death, birth of a child, etc. to ensure your family is protected and your wishes are fulfilled.

How To Amend a Will

man changing his mind about his will

Amending a will requires some effort. You can change your will by adding a codicil. This is a supplementary document that is added to your will, amending it rather than replacing it. As with a will, a codicil requires signatures and witnesses.

Writing a codicil is often considered simpler than drafting an entirely new will. However, with our printable last will and testament template, it is often more straightforward to write a new will altogether. Fill out the blank spaces in our form with your information, download the template in PDF, and sign the agreement to make it legal. When you make a new will, be sure to store it in a safe place.

If you make a new will, you need to revoke your original will by voiding it and all copies of the instrument. This can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Express the desire to revoke your old will in your new will;

  2. Purposefully destroy the will and any copies by tearing, burning, or shredding them; or

  3. Some state laws revoke wills following marriage or divorce, such as in California.

Will vs Living Trust

Both wills and living trusts are used to help manage and distribute assets after death. However, the two are subtly yet notably different:

Will

A will only becomes effective after a person’s death and outlines how the deceased wishes an executor to handle their property and assets. The document gives the names of beneficiaries and appoints people to raise the decedent’s minor children.

Living Trust

A living trust is a legal document that outlines how a person wishes their property to be managed and distributed after death. However, trusts can also be used during the lifetime of the grantor – hence the term “living trust.”

Both wills and living trusts play an important role in estate planning. To help you decide on the right legal document for your situation, here we evaluate the pros and cons of each:

Will

Advantages:

  • A last will and testament is much cheaper to set up than a living trust.
  • The process for writing a will is simple and can often be drafted without obtaining legal advice.
  • You can appoint a guardian for children in a will.

Disadvantages:

  • All assets in the will have to pass through probate, which can be a longwinded and complex process.
  • Have to pay probate fees for every asset that passes through probate.
  • Probate takes around one year on average.
Living Trust

Advantages:

  • At death, there is no estate administration or probate. The successor trustee simply distributes the assets.
  • No probate court costs or filing fees.
  • No delay in distributing assets to your chosen beneficiaries.
  • Living trusts enable you to specify who can manage your property if you become incapacitated, which isn’t possible with a will.

Disadvantages:

  • You cannot appoint a guardian for any children in a living trust.
  • A living trust is more complicated and usually requires the help of a professional attorney.
  • Living wills must be notarized, adding an extra step and cost to the process.

How To Use a Last Will and Testament

Once you have written your last will and testament, all you need to do is keep it safe. It is advisable to make several copies of your will in case the original agreement is damaged or lost. Ensure it is updated regularly and after any major life events.

The will becomes active once you pass away, and it is down to the executor to fulfill your wishes as per the document.

Common Use Cases

A last will and testament is an integral part of estate planning and is crucial for anyone who wants control over their property after death. Below are some reasons people choose to have a will:

  • To gain control over who receives your assets after death;
  • To ensure estranged relatives or others don’t get their hands on your assets;
  • To identify and appoint a guardian for your children so it isn’t left to the courts;
  • To speed up the time taken for your heirs to receive their assets;
  • To give gifts and charitable donations to meaningful non-profits;
  • To save on estate taxes.

When Not To Use the Last Will and Testament

Although a will is useful for managing many assets, it is not useful for some asset classes. If you have any of the following types of property, a will won’t be useful:

  • Jointly owned property;
  • Property already assigned to a living trust;
  • Pension plan with assigned beneficiaries;
  • Stocks and shares in accounts signed to beneficiaries;
  • Money in a payable-on-death bank account.

A will and testament should also be avoided if you want to avoid the probate process. All property and assets on your will need to pass through probate court. This can be a long and costly process, and your last will and testament is made public.

State Law

For your last will and testament to be considered legally valid, it must be signed and created as per state law. If you have moved to another state, you must check that your will conforms to the laws of your new jurisdiction – otherwise, it will not be honored. Here is an overview of the key differences found in state law:

State Law
Alabama
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Ala. Code Title 43, Chapter 8, Article 7

State Law
Alaska
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Alaska Stat. Title 13, Chapter 12, Article 5

State Law
Arizona
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. Title 14 § 14-2501 

State Law
Arkansas
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Ark. Code Title 28, Subtitle 3, Chapter 25 § 28-25-101 

State Law
California
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Cal. Prob. Code, Division 6, Part 1, Chapter 1 § 6100 

State Law
Colorado
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Colo. Code Title 15, Part 5 § 15-11-501

State Law
Connecticut
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. Title 45a, Chapter 802a § 45a-250

State Law
Delaware
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Del. Code Title 12, Chapter 2, Subchapter 1 § 201

State Law
Florida
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Fla. Stat. Ann. Title XLII, Chapter 732 § 732.501

State Law
Georgia
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 14 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Ga. Code Ann. Title 53, Chapter 4, Article 2 § 53-4-10

State Law
Hawaii
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Haw. Rev. Stat. Title 30 A, 560 § 560-2-501

State Law
Idaho
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Idaho Code Title 15, Chapter 2, Part 5 § 15-2-501

State Law
Illinois
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Ill. Comp. Stat. Chapter 755; Probate Act of 1975 Article IV.

State Law
Indiana
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required;
  3. Testators may be of younger age if they're a member of the armed forces.

State Law: Ind. Code Ann. Title 29, Chapter 5 § 29-1-5-1

State Law
Iowa
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Iowa Code, Title XV, Chapter 633 § 633.264

State Law
Kansas
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years possessing the rights of majority; or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Kan. Stat. Ann. Chapter 59, Article 6 § 59-601

State Law
Kentucky
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required;
  3. Minor parents that need to appoint a guardian can be a testator of younger age.

State Law: Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. Chapter 394 § 394-020

State Law
Louisiana
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. The age of testators is not specified; however, Article 1577 of the Louisiana Civil Code stipulated certain requirements for the form of testament.

State Law: La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1577

State Law
Maine
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years and of sound mind as well as legally emancipated minors of sound mind are required.

State Law: Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. Tit. 18-C; Probate Code, Article 2, Part 5 § 2-501

State Law
Maryland
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind and legally competent to make a will are required.

State Law: Md. Stat. Ann. Title 4, Subtitle 1 § 4-101

State Law
Massachusetts
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Mass. Gen. Laws Title II, Part II, Chapter 191b

State Law
Michigan
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older are required. They should also have sufficient mental capacity, satisfying certain requirements specified in § 700.2501 of 2021 Michigan Compiled Laws. 

State Law: Mich. Comp. Laws Chapter 700, 1998 Statute Act 386, Article II § 700-2501

State Law
Minnesota
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Minn. Stat. Ann. Chapter 524 § 524.2-501

State Law
Mississippi
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Miss. Code Ann. Title 91, Chapter 5 § 91-5-1

State Law
Missouri
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required;
  3. Any minor emancipated by adjudication, marriage, or entry into active military duty may be recognized as testators.

State Law: Mo. Rev. Stat. Title XXXI, Chapter 474 §§ 474-310

State Law
Montana
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Mont. Code Ann. Title 72, Chapter 3, Part 5 § 72-2-521

State Law
Nebraska
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Neb. Rev. Stat. Chapter 30 § 3-2326

State Law
Nevada
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Nev. Rev. Stat. Chapter 133 § 133.020

State Law
New Hampshire
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required;
  3. Married persons under 18 of sound mind may be also recognized as testators.

State Law: N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. Title LVI § 551:1

State Law
New Jersey
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: N.J. Stat. Ann. Title 3B § 3B:3-1

State Law
New Mexico
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years and of sound mind as well as legally emancipated minors of sound mind are required.

State Law: N.M. Stat. Ann. Chapter 45 Article 2 § 45-2-501

State Law
New York
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized, except for a member of the armed forces, a person who serves an armed force during war or armed conflict, or a mariner while at sea;
  2. Testators of 18 years and of sound mind and memory are required.

State Law: NY EPT Chapter 17-B, Article 3, Part 1 § 3-1-1

State Law
North Carolina
  1. Specific requirements apply to holographic wills;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: N.C. Gen. Stat. Chapter 31 § 31-1

State Law
North Dakota
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: N.D. Cent. Code Title 30.1, Chapter 30.1-08

State Law
Ohio
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older, of sound mind, and NOT under restraint are required.

State Law: Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Title 21, Chapter 2107 § 2107.02

State Law
Oklahoma
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Okla. Stat. Ann. Title 84, § 84-41

State Law
Oregon
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required;
  3. Testators of younger age if lawfully married or emancipated may be recognized as testators.

State Law: Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. Volume 03, Chapter 112 § 112.225

State Law
Pennsylvania
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Pa. Cons. & Uncons. Stat. Ann., Title 20, Chapter 25 § 2501

State Law
Rhode Island
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: R.I. Gen. Laws Title 33, Chapter 33-5, § 33-5-2

State Law
South Carolina
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Any individual of sound mind and NOT a minor is required to be a testator.

State Law: S.C. Code Ann. Title 62, Article 2, § 62-2-501

State Law
South Dakota
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: S.D. Codified Laws Title 29A, Chapter 02 § 29A-2-501

State Law
Tennessee
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Tenn. Code Ann. Title 32, Chapter 1, Part 1 § 32-1-102

State Law
Texas
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older, married or a member of the US armed forces, and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Tex. Stat. Ann., Estates Code, Title 2, Subtitle F, Chapter 251 § 251.001

State Law
Utah
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Utah Code Ann. Title 75, Chapter 2 Part 5 § 501

State Law
Vermont
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older, emancipated by court, and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Vt. Stat. Ann. Title 14, Chapter 1 § 5

State Law
Virginia
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and emancipated minors of sound mind are required.

State Law: Va. Code Ann. Title 64-2, Chapter 4 § 64-2-401

State Law
Washington
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Wash. Rev. Code Ann. Title 11 Chapter 11-12 § 11-12-010

State Law
West Virginia
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and emancipated minors of sound mind are required.

State Law: WV Code Ann. Chapter 41, Article 1 § 41-1-1

State Law
Wisconsin
  1. Holographic wills are NOT recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and of sound mind are required.

State Law: Wis. Stat. Ann. Chapter 853 § 853-01

State Law
Wyoming
  1. Holographic wills are recognized;
  2. Testators of 18 years or older and emancipated minors of sound mind are required.

State Law: Wyo. Stat. Ann. Title 2 Chapter 6 Article 1 § 2-6-101

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Frequently Asked Questions

What should you not include in a last will and testament?
  • Business interests: To ensure a smooth transition, you are advised not to include business interests.
  • Personal Wishes or desires: your personal wishes may be best suited in a letter of intent or a Trust for more control over how your estate is used.
  • Property: named beneficiary accounts that will automatically pay out to the named beneficiary on death. Jointly owned property automatically vests in the co-owner. Trust property is also a separate vehicle not subject to probate.
What are the eight steps of preparing a will?
  1. Choosing how to create your will: Some people prefer putting their estate in Trust, which minimizes taxes and ensures heirs follow their wishes. Others prefer a will.
  2. Create a list of assets: List all your accounts and other valuable property.
  3. Choose who inherits what
  4. Choose a guardian for your minor children.
  5. Draft the will – it's a good idea to consult with an attorney who can offer valuable insight.
  6. Name your executor: This is the person responsible for carrying out the terms of your will.
  7. Make your will official – Most states require your will to be signed by two witnesses who are at least 18 and aren’t beneficiaries of the will, and some states also require it to be notarized.
  8. Keep your will updated
Can I write my own will and get it notarized?

Some states may require that your Will has been notarized, Louisiana, for example. However, in many cases, notarization is not required. However, it may be a good idea to get your Will notarized regardless of whether it is needed. 

This will allow you to add a self-proving affidavit, a voluntary document, to your Will. This document eliminates the need to validate your and the witnesses' signatures and speeds up the rebate process. Your estate can be distributed quicker to your loved ones according to your wishes.