Why You Need To Have A Will

Why You Need To Have A Will

Kim Pinnelli

by Kim Pinnelli
Senior Contributing Writer

Updated October 11, 2020
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Why You Need To Have A Will

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Without an executed will, your assets may never reach the beneficiaries you intended to receive them.

Do you have special wishes for your belongings and assets upon your passing? Without a last will and testament, there’s nothing stating what you intend for your assets. A last will and testament is a legal document dictating how your assets and wealth get distributed.

The Contents of a Last Will and Testament

Your will should include details about all of the following:

  • The name of the executor of your will
  • The names of all beneficiaries in the will
  • A detailed list of what should happen with each asset

Each person’s will may look different. It’s important to work with your financial planner and attorney when making decisions.

What Does the Executor Do?

The executor is the person in charge. This person has the responsibility of dividing the assets according to your wishes. The executor should be someone you trust will carry out your wishes as you dictate in your will. The executor doesn’t have to be a family member or friend; it can also be a professional that you hire to distribute your assets and fulfill your final wishes.

What is Probate?

Most last will and testaments go through probate – it just depends on the state that you live and the type of assets being transferred. Probate isn’t a ‘bad’ thing; it’s just the process of a judge agreeing that the assets should be distributed as stated in the will and allowing it to happen.

Certain assets are able to ‘skip’ probate, including life insurance policies and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries. If your assets are in a revocable living trust, they may also bypass the probate process.

What Happens if You Don’t Have One and You Pass Away?

One surefire way to ensure your assets must go through probate is to not have a last will and testament. That’s why the answer to ‘Do I need a last will and testament’ is a resounding, ‘yes.’ Without named beneficiaries and instructions for your assets, the entire estate must go through the court system.

The probate process can be complex and expensive without a will in place. The courts decide, based on the law, who is entitled to the assets based on inheritance laws. Without a will in place, your wishes aren’t granted. You could promise all you want to family members, but without the legal document, the courts may not follow those wishes. The probate process can be long, complicated, and expensive. It often causes issues amongst family members as they argue about who should get what and face disappointment as the court distributes the assets as the law dictates.

Even if you think you don’t have enough assets to warrant a last will and testament, consider it. They aren’t just for the rich and famous. They are for anyone that has assets that they want to be distributed a certain way upon their passing. The will also helps ensure that a responsible person handles the distribution of your assets and honors your last wishes. Without a will, your assets could remain tied up in the court for many years.

Where Can I Find Help?

Legal advice is strongly recommended. You can find a local attorney by asking friends or family, searching the Internet or consulting the yellow pages. Alternatively, you can turn to one of the many online legal services such as LegalZoom or RocketLawyer. These online legal services provide useful information as well as access to attorneys who specialize in estate planning, last will and testament documents and probate proceedings. Protect your assets, do the research and speak with an attorney when you're ready. You worked hard for your money. Make sure you have a plan.