A will is a document containing your last wishes and the directions for the distribution of your assets after your death. The requirements for a valid vary by state but typically include your signature, the signature of witnesses and a clear statement of your intent to distribute your property. You are not legally required to have a will, but your will may help protect and provide for your loved ones after your death.
To Make Provisions for Your Loved Ones
If you do not have a will, your estate is distributed to your heirs in accordance with your state's inheritance laws, but the distribution may not reflect your personal wishes. If you want to omit an heir for personal reasons, you may do so in your will. You may leave money and gifts to friends and charitable or religious organizations in your will; without a will, your favorite charity, your place of worship and your close friends are not entitled to anything from your estate.
To Save Your Family Time and Money
The settling of your estate generally moves more quickly with a will, per Florida estate planning attorney Martin H. Cohen. If you do not have a will, your family must petition the court for administration instead of probate, the legal proceeding used to settle an estate of a person who dies with a will. Administration proceedings may take longer, as the state inheritance laws must be considered, and cost more than probate in some states. Your family may pay lower estate taxes if you have a will, depending on your estate's total value, state laws and the structure of your will.
To Name a Guardian for Your Children
You may name a legal guardian for your minor children in your will. The guardian must be at least 18 or 21 years of age -- depending on your state's laws -- and mentally competent. The legal guardian will take care of your children in the event of your death. If you do not have a will that names a legal guardian, your children may be placed in the care of your closest living relative, but the relative selected by the court may not have been your first choice for a caregiver for your children.
To Name Your Executor
Your executor is the person who will manage your estate, distribute assets to your heirs and pay your debts after you die. The selection and naming of an executor is vital during the will preparation process, as your executor has numerous legal responsibilities and duties. If you chose an executor who is unwilling to act as such, your will may not be probated. An executor who behaves in a dishonest or neglectful way may harm your heirs, as your estate's assets may dwindle as a result.