What Are the Benefits of Wills?

by Teo Spengler
Lawyers can provide estate planning and tax advice.

Lawyers can provide estate planning and tax advice.

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Many adults do not have a will. Whether this results from an unwillingness to face the idea of death or from fear of exorbitant attorney fees, the consequences are severe. A person who dies intestate -- or without a will -- forfeits her opportunity to name who will inherit her assets. She also misses her chance to select an appropriate and trusted guardian for her minor children.

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Select Heirs

If you do not write a will, the state apportions your assets to blood relations according to intestate laws. Families can be scattered across geographical regions, and many people are unacquainted with their own kin. Others know but do not like particular relatives. Writing a will allows you to select who receives your property when you die. Few states impose restrictions on disinheriting offspring, so a testator enjoys virtually free reign in describing bequests.

Condition Bequests

A will is not only a vehicle for bequests, it also enables a testator to condition her devises. If you love your brother Pete but have ambivalent feelings toward his juvenile-delinquent teenagers, for example, you can leave property to him in your will on the condition that he survives you. If Pete predeceases you and you die intestate, his children receive his share. You can also condition your bequests by inserting a no-contest provision in your will. A no-contest provision is language that disinherits any heir who contests the will, essentially predisposing each to accept your will's terms. Most states enforce no-contest provisions.

Choose Guardians

Parents who neglect to prepare a will give up the chance to select guardians for their minor children. If your spouse dies with you, a guardian looks after your children until they come of age. The advantages of carefully selecting a trusted caretaker are obvious. You can also name a separate financial guardian to manage your children's assets. Banks often serve in this role.

Select an Executor

An executor is the person who administers your estate when you die. The executor opens probate, collects assets, pays bills and distributes property according to your will's terms. If you die without a will, the court appoints an executor to be paid on an hourly basis from the assets in your estate. Naming a trusted friend to this important role increases the chances for a smooth, efficient probate.