A will is the legal instrument that permits a person, the testator, to make decisions on how his estate will be managed and distributed after his death.
If a person does not leave a will, or the will is declared invalid, the person will have died intestate, resulting in the distribution of the estate according to the intestacy laws of the state in which the person resided.
A will enables a person to select his heirs rather than allowing the state intestacy laws to choose the heirs, who, although blood relatives, may be people the testator would never want to inherit his or her property. A will further allows a person to decide which individual could best serve as the executor or personal representative of his estate, distributing the property fairly to the beneficiaries while protecting their interests, rather than allowing a court to appoint a stranger to serve as administrator. Finally, a will safeguards a person’s right to select an individual to serve as guardian to raise his young children in the event of his death.
A will, however, does not avoid probate. In fact, the purpose of a will is to provide instruction to the probate court on how to distribute the testator’s assets. The probate process can be time consuming and costly. And it’s completely public.