What Is the Purpose of a Last Will & Testament

By Lee Carroll

Creating a will is rarely a pleasant task, and many people avoid it as long as possible. By its nature, a will requires facing the fragility of life and personal mortality. However, dying without a will puts the state in charge of making decisions, and a probate court's choices may not coincide with your own. Whether simple or complex, all valid wills give you some control over how your personal estate is handled after your death.

Appointing a Personal Representative

Nominating a personal representative, or executor, in your will allows you to control who settles debts and distributes property to beneficiaries after your death. The executor -- a family member, friend or business such as a bank -- manages the estate according to your will’s instructions. If no one is nominated, the judge will appoint an administrator, explains AARP. The administrator may be a person close to you, but the judge is more likely to choose a stranger or business with proven experience in settling estates to expedite the probate process. Judges also have the right to deny a person you appoint if she does not meet statutory requirements.

Explaining Final Arrangements

Funeral arrangements, as well as burial, cremation or donation of the body to science, are sometimes listed in a will. It is wise to consider telling family members or friends about those wishes and organizing arrangements ahead of time. If the will cannot be located or if a delay occurs in reading the will, final arrangements could also be delayed or left for someone else to decide.

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Assigning a Minor's Guardian

Guardians for minor children are often named in a will, explains the American Bar Association. If the testator -- the will maker -- is a single parent, if the other parent is unwilling or unable to care for the children or in the unlikely event of the death of both parents at the same time, the court knows who the testator wants to care for his children. Guardianship is a hefty responsibility, so prior discussions are a good idea.

Determining Property Distribution

A married person usually identifies her spouse and explains how her property is to be distributed to him at her death, notes attorney Cameron R. Kelly for HG.org. She may list property that he will inherit, or she may state that everything transfers to him. If she leaves her spouse out of her will, he could still inherit part of the estate. Some states allow disinheriting spouses, but many do not. Minor children may or may not be listed as beneficiaries. A testator may assign all property to her spouse with the understanding that he will care for their children. Adult children are usually named as beneficiaries if they are to inherit. Other beneficiaries such as distant relatives, friends or charities are also named and gifts to them are enumerated.

Guiding Debt Fulfillment

Although creditors are paid whether or not instructions are given in a will, some testators explain how they should be paid. For example, a bank account may exist for the sole purpose of repaying creditors. If so, debts are paid from that fund. If money is left over after repayment, the will can assign it to a charity, trust fund or another beneficiary. If the account does not have not enough money in it to pay all debts, the will may give instructions to pull from another account or to sell certain property.

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Setting Up Guardianship in a Will
 

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When to Notify the Executor of a Will

Called a personal representative in some states, the executor named in a will assumes responsibility for administering the decedent's estate after formal appointment by the probate court. The executor should be notified as soon as possible after the death of the decedent. The role of executor entails great responsibility, as this person is entrusted with paying the decedent's debts and taxes, managing assets and ensuring those assets eventually pass to the rightful beneficiaries.

Tennessee Laws for a Deceased Parent's Executor

In Tennessee, the executor of a deceased parent's estate is obligated to manage and settle the estate's affairs. Tennessee requires an executor to probate a parent's estate -- whether the parent died with a will or not -- if the parent owned any property in his or her name. Large, complex estates are typically probated, and probate courts assist the executor during the process. Title 30 of Tennessee's state code addresses the duties of an executor when an estate is probated.

Procedure for Appointing an Executor of a Will

The testator, or person drafting the will, appoints an executor to handle the distribution of the estate. If the will does not name an executor, the court appoints an administrator. Many people consider the role of executor to be an honorary appointment. However, an executor incurs serious responsibilities in administering the affairs for the estate. While the final decision rests with the testator, following certain guidelines can minimize misunderstandings and may prevent serious legal difficulties down the line.

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