A will provides for the distribution of property you own at the time of your death in almost any manner you choose. Of course, you cannot use a will to completely disinherit your spouse. Wills can be of various degrees of complexity and can help you achieve a wide range of family and estate tax objectives.
In general, a “simple will” provides for the outright distribution of assets, a “testamentary trust will” establishes one or more trusts upon your death (“testamentary” means something created by your will), and a “pour over will” leaves some probate assets to a trust you create during your lifetime. In most cases, the purpose of a trust in a pour over will is to ensure continued property management and creditor protection for the surviving family members, to provide for charities, to minimize taxes, and avoid the probate process.
In addition to distributing your assets to your spouse, children, etc., your will may accomplish other important objectives including:
• You may designate a guardian for your minor child or children, and, by judicious use of a trust and appointment of a trustee, eliminate the need for bonds and supervision by the court regarding the care of each child’s estate.
• You may designate an executor of your estate in your will.
• You may choose to acknowledge or otherwise provide for a child (e.g., stepchild, godchild, etc.), an elderly parent, or other individuals in whom you have an interest.
• If you are acting as custodian for the assets of a child or grandchild under the Uniform Gift (or Transfers) to Minors Act, you may designate your successor custodian and avoid the expense and hassle of a court appointment.
In conclusion, you should have a will if:
1. You want to have more control over your estate than the “default rules” allow.
2. You want to save your survivors from the costs and inconvenience of the intestate probate process.
If neither of these considerations is important, and you decide not to execute a will, be sure to tell your family what the consequences of dying without a will may be.