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What do wills do?

As you make your estate plan, you may have received conflicting advice about whether or not to write a will. Wills have fallen out of favor to a certain extent because they have to go through probate.

Nevertheless, a will can perform important functions in your estate plan that other documents may not be able to accomplish. Here is a look at what a will can do for you, as well as some things it cannot do.

What a will does

Following your death, other people have to take responsibility for certain matters. For example, you must have an executor who is in charge of your probate estate and designate a guardian for your minor children, if applicable. A will allows you to name the person you want for each of these positions. It can be a different person for each position or the same person for both; it is up to you.

Another important function of a will is to bequeath your property to heirs who will receive it after your death. If you die without a will or any type of estate plan, the laws of intestacy determine the distribution of your property. A will allows you to include people these laws leave out, such as godchildren, friends or stepchildren.

What a will does not do

You cannot use a will to bequeath property to your pets because animals cannot inherit. However, because pets are property, you can leave the care of your dog, cat, etc. to someone in your will.

According to the American Bar Association, you also cannot use a will to transfer non-probate property. This includes assets with a beneficiary designation, such as an insurance policy or an IRA, and any property owned jointly that should pass to the surviving owner.

If you have a trust, any assets in it are non-probate property. However, chances are good that you cannot get all your property into the trust before you die. Therefore, even if you have a trust, you should still have a will to handle the disposition of any leftover property.

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