What Is a Last Will & Testament For?

by Laura Wallace Henderson
Your last will and testament allows you to share your final wishes.

Your last will and testament allows you to share your final wishes.

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

Although you may prefer to contemplate more pleasant circumstances, planning for your death allows you to retain some control over your belongings. A last will and testament is a legal document outlining your final wishes. A licensed attorney can help you understand the laws in your state that regulate the process of creating and executing last wills and testaments.

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Estate Planning

Estate planning refers to the branch of the law that includes planning for death. Certain documents, such as powers of attorney, living wills, trusts and final wills and testaments allow you to document your wishes regarding end-of-life care and the distribution of your assets. The legal documents that may best serve your needs depend on your individual circumstances and the extent and complexity of your estate.

Purpose

Your last will and testament allows you to voice your final wishes regarding the division of your estate after your death. If you die without a will, the court may determine who inherits your assets and who acts as the guardian of any minor children or pets. A written will can ensure your chosen beneficiaries or your selected charities receive your personal belongings or your financial assets. Your last will and testament may also help avoid conflicts between loved ones by eliminating misunderstandings regarding your wishes regarding the division of your estate.

Considerations

When creating your will, consider whom you want to designate as your executor or administrator. This individual is responsible for carrying out your final wishes, as well as following the court’s orders regarding the payment of estate debts, taxes and expenses involved in settling your estate. While some wills provide basic instructions, including specific directives regarding how you want to distribute family heirlooms, sentimental items, real estate and investments, may help make your executor’s job easier. Naming a successor executor and successor guardians can help provide important provisions in case your named executor or guardians cannot fulfill their responsibilities.

Process

Make sure you follow the regulations in your state to ensure you legally execute your last will and testament. General regulations include signing your will before two witnesses who can testify in court as to the validity of your document. Review your will periodically to make any necessary changes. Upon your death, your will enters a court process known as probate. During the probate process, the court will oversee your executor’s actions, including the compilation of inventories, payment of debts and division of assets.