Purpose of Legal Wills

By Cindy Hill

Two types of legal documents are referred to as wills. A last will and testament is an estate planning directive, which takes effect after your death. A living will includes health care directives and takes effect if you are incapacitated or physically unable to communicate. Each of these types of legal wills serve different purposes and both are important tools in the management of your personal legal affairs.

Disposition of Property

A legal last will and testament serves the purpose of designating how you would like your personal property distributed at the time of your death. Assuming that your last will and testament has been lawfully made and executed, your stated intentions for the disposition of your property will be followed by your executor and the probate court in most circumstances. There are exceptions to this rule; for example, in most states you can not wholly disinherit your spouse if you remain legally married at the time of your death, and divorce is presumed to revoke a will provision leaving property to your former spouse, according to the Mahoning County, Ohio, Probate Court.

Guardianship for Minor Children

Naming a guardian for your minor children in the event of your death is an important purpose of a last will and testament. In most cases, the probate court will honor your designation of a legal guardian, unless the person you have appointed is unwilling or unable to serve. Many people also use a will to appoint caregivers for their pets or domestic livestock, often with a bequest of funds to help pay for their care.

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Naming Your Executor

Naming an estate executor, or fiduciary representative, is an important purpose of a will, even if you think you have few assets at the time the will is written, advises the Mahoning County, Ohio, Probate Court. In the event that you are killed in an accident or other wrongful death event, your estate executor will be the person to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your heirs and family.

Health Care Directives

Your last will and testament does not become effective until you die and can't cause a transfer of rights in any property until your death, advises the North Carolina State Bar. The purpose of a living will is to issue directives regarding critical health care decisions, to guide your medical treatment professionals in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to communicate, according to the E Home Fellowship, a family support fellowship information site directed by minister and business management consultant Glen Williams. The laws of different states vary regarding the effect of a living will, with some state laws requiring execution of a durable health care power of attorney appointing someone to make medical treatment decisions for you in lieu of a living will.

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Legally Incapacitated vs. Legally Incompetent


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New Jersey Durable Power of Attorney

Granting power of attorney to someone you trust allows that person to take care of your legal, financial and medical affairs on your behalf. In New Jersey, a "durable" power of attorney lets another person take care of your affairs even if you become incapacitated.

How to Renounce the Estate

You may renounce an estate by completing and filling a renunciation form in the probate court handling the estate proceedings. Once you renounce your interest in the estate, you don't have any legal right to, or responsibility for, the inheritance you were left. An heir may renounce an estate for various reasons, including to avoid inheritance tax consequences or to decline ownership of property that is carrying debt. You must renounce the estate before you take legal possession of your inherited property.

What Happens When a Person Dies Without a Will?

If you die without a will or other means of specifying how to distribute your estate, the law states that you have died "intestate." As a result, the distribution of your property may or may not be in line with your wishes. Consult with a legal professional who specializes in wills and estates about specific questions pertaining to your circumstances.

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