To start with, a will lets you decide who will inherit from you. If you die without a will, the state will decide who receives your property and life savings. This happens by statute, without regard to your wishes or your family’s needs. A will allows you to decide who gets special family heirlooms, such as rings, china, or guns. Without a will, your family may feud over these items, or fight over who gets to be the administrator of the estate, the person who will make such decisions. Relatives battling over your possessions can weaken what may have otherwise been a strong family.
A will allows you to leave money to your church or a charity. It allows you control over the distribution of your real estate and it allows you to leave a life estate to your spouse or child, or to place conditions upon the use of your land. A will allows for a smooth transition of your family business to the persons of your choice, in whatever manner you decide.
Wills are especially important for families with stepchildren, as the laws of the state often will not reflect the wishes of the parents in such situations. The laws of the state will also not provide for your partner if you are not married.
Your will can state who you wish to be the guardian or guardians of your minor children or grandchildren. If you don’t decide, the courts will. This is particularly important if you want a specific family member or friend to take care of your children or grandchildren, but that person is not your next of kin. It’s best to designate that person specifically in a will. Otherwise, the state might give custody to a relative who you may not approve of.
You can use your will to specify your wishes regarding burial, cremation, or memorial services. Your will can help avoid family squabbles or “guilt buying” at the funeral home. (It’s important to note that your will is often not read until after the funeral, so it is a good idea to advise your loved ones that you have specified your wishes in your will).
What if you don’t own anything and you don’t have any savings?
Suppose you die in a car wreck caused by a drunk driver. Even if you have no property or savings, your estate might have a wrongful death claim worth a great deal of money, which will be distributed by the laws of the state if you have no will. In other words, if you die in an accident, your family could be entitled to money because of it, and having a will in place will decide who that money goes to.
We can't avoid death, but having a will can help ease the burden on our loved ones. Leaving a will for our loved ones to follow could help ease their stress and worry through a difficult time.