A will provides written instructions on how to distribute assets from your estate when you die. A will can also provide directions on how to handle funeral arrangements or provide for the care of children or other dependents. Writing a will is one of several options that you can use to put your final legal and financial affairs in order.
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A will details how you want the assets from your estate to be distributed after your death. In addition, a will may describe your desired funeral or memorial service arrangements, and provide for financial and physical care of minor children and other dependents, according to Elder Law Answers. In most states, a will must have your signature and be verified by one or more witnesses to be recognized as valid. Some, but not all, states recognize a holographic, or handwritten, will as valid.
Dying Without a Will
If you do not execute a valid will before you die, you die intestate, which leaves the distribution of your assets to the state. Each state varies in how it structures its laws of intestate succession, or default guidelines in determining how to distribute the assets of an estate, according to the American Bar Association. If you die without naming an executor, an individual or organization entrusted with carrying out your final wishes, the state appoints an administrator to oversee the distribution of your estate.
Substitutes for Wills
You may opt to establish a living trust for your assets and serve as trustee while you are alive, naming a successor to administer the trust when you die. A "pour over will" transfers any property not previously contained within a living trust to the trust after you die. Life insurance policies go directly to the named beneficiary after you die. Payments from any retirement benefits or annuities also transfer to a beneficiary that you designate, although some benefits transfer directly to a spouse, according to the ABA.
Living Wills and Advance Directives
A living will provides instructions for hospitals and medical facilities on how to handle end-of-life medical care, according to Medline Plus. A durable power of attorney for health care assigns an individual to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so. Along with a durable power of attorney for health care, advance directives eliminate confusion about using or withholding life-sustaining equipment in when you are not capable of expressing your wishes. A living will also makes provisions for organ donation in the event that emergency workers cannot save your life or doctors determine that you have no reasonable chance for recovery.