The Pros and Cons of Making a Will

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

The Pros and Cons of Making a Will

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you create a will or other estate planning documents, you give your loved ones valuable gifts. This legal document formalizes your wishes for the orderly management and distribution of your assets when you die. Be sure to evaluate the potential benefits and disadvantages associated with each option before deciding on a will or other estate planning strategy. Keep in mind that the right estate planning tools for you depend on your particular circumstances, wishes, and goals. What makes sense for one person isn't always the best option for another.

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Potential Benefits of Making a Will

Creating a will can provide you peace of mind, knowing you have documented your wishes. Creating this paperwork allows you to nominate a trusted family member or friend or a professional company as your personal representative (called an executor in some states). Designating a personal representative in the document can eliminate arguments among family members about whom you would have chosen for that role. The document also establishes who inherits your assets. If you die intestate, or without a will, your assets pass according to state law.

If you have minor children, you can designate someone to serve as a guardian. If you and your child's other parent die prematurely, the guardian has physical custody until the child is legally an adult. Guardianship can also be a source of contention in families when parents die without any estate-planning paperwork.

If your estate has to go through the probate process after you die, having a valid will can make that process easier and faster.

When deciding between a will and a trust, cost and effort are often important considerations. The former is relatively easy to create, and is generally less expensive than a trust.

Potential Drawbacks of Making a Will

There are multiple types of document you can use for estate planning. Many people create revocable trusts based on their current situation, goals, and wishes for estate management and distribution. With a will, your estate generally goes through probate after you die; assets inside trusts typically pass outside probate court. State law governs wills, trusts, and probate. If you want your estate to avoid probate proceedings, review your state's laws and requirements.

Your will also needs to comply with certain legal formalities in your state. In most cases, these formalities include two witnesses watching you signing the document. In some states, it also requires notarization. When you work with an attorney to create estate-planning paperwork, the attorney's office can likely handle these requirements. If you create the documentation on your own, you are responsible for complying with state law.

Wills are useful estate planning tools, but some people decide it makes more sense to use revocable trusts or a combination of tools that might include trusts, wills, beneficiary designations, joint ownership, payable on death (POD) designations, and transfer on death (TOD) designations. Consider your options and the requirements involved carefully to ensure the best path to transferring your assets after your death.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.