What is a Will?

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “Will” is the “legal expression or declaration of a person’s mind or wishes as to the disposition of his property, to be performed or take effect after his death.” Most people understand that.

A Will, however, is much more than just a property-distribution document.

A Will not only governs the distribution of your property after you pass away, but it provides specific instructions about how debts should be paid, and in which priority. For example, a well-drafted Will can protect your home by requiring that your estate’s debts be paid from other assets—instead of from any asset. In many cases, this is crucial if you want to ensure that a particular beneficiary continues to live in your home after you pass away.

A Will can make several important designations that can seriously impact your family after you pass away. Such designations might include the Executor, the Trustee, or the Guardian (among potential others). The Executor is the individual you designate to manage and settle the affairs of your estate after you pass away. The Trustee is the person who will manage any Trusts that your Will created (note that a Will-created Trust is one of many different kinds of Trusts). And the Guardian is the person you designate to care for your minor children after you pass away, the person who will assume your parental responsibilities. Without making such designations before you pass away, a court could make such designations for you (which you likely do not want).

A Will provides specific instructions to the court in the event that court involvement is ever necessary for settling your estate’s affairs. For example, in many cases, a simple probate might be necessary to formally appoint an Executor and to distribute your estate’s assets. If so, it is important that your you indicate which kind of probate procedure you desire. This can make things significantly more efficient and less expensive (which means less stress and more inheritance dollars for your family). Further, if there is ever a dispute over your estate after you pass away, your Will could indicate how such a dispute should be resolved.

A Will is a general, flexible, and highly-customizable document that can be tailored to your needs and desires. It can accomplish the above-described goals, and it can do much more.