A woman with pen in hand reviews a will.

What is a will and why do you need one?

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A woman with pen in hand reviews a will.

A will is a legal document that establishes who will receive your assets from your estate and can appoint guardianship of minors.

Having a will provides you the peace of mind that your wishes will be followed. This could mean providing for your loved ones or possibly the charities of your choice. Having a will may make the settlement of your estate easier and faster than if you didn't have one.

Avoids distribution under the law of intestacy

If a person dies without a will, he or she is said to have died "intestate." States have laws to deal with this situation. These state "intestacy" laws will typically pass property to certain relatives of the decedent. These laws have been drafted to be fair in the average situation, but most persons would like to choose who will receive their estate when they die.

Permits the nomination of a guardian for minor children

Without a nomination in a will, the court will appoint a guardian of the person for minor children. Relatives are not always the best choice for a guardian and consideration must be given to the financial situation of the potential guardian, as well as his or her health, age, willingness and ability to care for your children.

Waiver of the probate bond

In the absence of a will, the court will require a fiduciary bond to be posted by the administrator (executor) of the estate to guarantee the replacement of any funds embezzled or diverted by him. Since this additional cost must be borne by the estate, the estate owner may want to waive the bond requirement in the will. Great care should be used in selecting an executor.

Choosing the executor

The duties of the executor of an estate can be very time consuming and frustrating, especially to a spouse who has just lost his or her loved one. In the will, a qualified individual and/or a corporate trust company can be chosen to handle these responsibilities.

Making specific bequests to individuals

An individual may bequeath specific items of jewelry, heirlooms and furniture, or make cash bequests, and be certain that they will pass to the proper persons. Without a will, written or oral instructions may not be followed.

Sale of assets during the administration of probate

Additional expense to the estate can generally be avoided by permitting the sale of assets without the executor having to publish a notice of sale in the newspaper. A sale of assets may be necessary in order to pay death taxes and expenses of probate.

Authorizing the continuation of a business

Unless the will authorizes the continuation of a business, the executor must operate it at his or her own risk. Many executors may elect not to administer the estate unless this risk is borne by the estate.

Deferring distributions to minors

When parents die leaving minor children, each child's share of the estate must be held in a guardianship account until he or she attains the age of 18 (or 21), at which time the entire remaining share is distributed outright. Trust provisions can be placed in the will to defer these distributions until a more mature age.

Peace of mind

Although this advantage cannot be measured in dollars and cents, when the estate is in order an emotional load is lifted from the person who is concerned for his or her family's well being.

These materials were reproduced with the permission of Advisys, Inc. No State Farm® entity prepared these materials nor does State Farm represent or warranty the opinions or statements expressed therein. These materials are being provided for information purposes only.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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