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10/4/07

Why do You Need a Will?

First of all, what is a will? A will is a legal declaration of a person’s wishes as to the disposition of his or her property or estate after death, usually written and signed by the testator and attested by witnesses. In case you do not know, the “testator” is the masculine form for a person who makes a will. The feminine word is “testatrix.”

Now that you know what a will is, why do you need a will? Without going too deep into the possibly situations that could occur based upon the execution, or lack thereof, of certain estate planning documents, whenever a person dies leaving property (whether real or personal), that person has died leaving an “estate.” Because a will (as stated above) is a legal declaration of a person’s wishes as to the disposition of that property or estate, a valid will has the effect of determining where your estate goes after you die.

If you do not care who gets a piece of your estate after you die, then you probably do not need a will. However, if you do care, then a will is necessary in order to dispose of your property according to your demands. If a person dies with a will, the person is said to have died “testate.” If a person dies without a will, the person is said to have died “intestate.”

If you were to die intestate, your property would be disposed of according to your state’s intestate succession laws. This means that the state, based upon the laws in place, will determine who gets your estate. Note that these laws will apply equally to everyone. In other words, no judge, state official, or any other official can subjectively decide who gets your estate. Everything is set by law. This can be a disadvantage if you want to disinherit one or more of your legal heirs (depending on your state’s laws and your familial situation, legal heirs means anybody related by blood; there is a system (called the Table of Consanguinity) by which certain blood relatives take before other blood relatives), because without a will, they will get a percentage of your estate.

Therefore, the biggest advantage of having a will is that you get to decide how your estate is distributed. You do not avoid probate and there are no real taxes advantages of having a will, however, the power to distribute your money and property according to your wishes is an advantage that cannot be measured.


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