What a Will Does and Doesn’t Do

A will is an important piece of any estate plan. And while you can use it to carry out many of your after-death wishes, there are some things a will cannot accomplish. If you’re currently planning your estate, it’s important you know what a will can and cannot do.

The Purpose of a Will

Ultimately, your will—also known as a last will and testament—outlines your wishes and instructions, then secures them legally upon your death. More specifically, a will accomplishes many functions, including:

  • Naming responsible parties. A will should name an executor, who will oversee the will and estate as it goes through the probate process. Essentially, the executor makes sure your wishes are carried out after your passing according to the instructions in the will. Additionally, a will should name guardians for your minor children and pets, if applicable.
  • Handling financial issues. If you wish to leave certain property to loved ones, a will specifies what inheritances go to specific individuals. Your will can also leave gifts to charities and organizations that we important to your life. Additionally, you may outline how you wish your debts and taxes to be paid after your death.
  • Providing for family members. Upon your death, you want to make sure your family will be secure without you. Through a will, you can set aside certain assets to go toward supporting your family after you’re gone.

A Will Won’t Accomplish Everything

However, a will is only one part of a complete estate plan, so it cannot accomplish everything. For example, your will cannot:

  • Help you avoid probate. The assets you leave to people in a will must go through the court-supervised probate process. Sometimes, months and months pass before your beneficiaries receive their inheritances.
  • Give away some types of property. Some types of assets do not have to pass through probate—such as joint tenancy property, assets in a living trust, life insurance policy benefits, and payable-on-death (POD) or retirement accounts—so these need not be mentioned in your will.
  • Outline your wishes for your funeral. It’s possible your will won’t be consulted or even found until after the funeral already occurs. If you have specific wishes for your funeral, consider drawing up a separate document for your executor or spouse.
  • Reduce estate taxes. Though most estates don’t have to pay federal taxes, if you wish to reduce your tax liability, your will cannot accomplish this. You’ll need to set up a separate trust or give gifts carefully to lower your expected tax liability.

Create a Complete Estate Plan With a Trustworthy Lawyer

If you’re thinking about what happens to your assets and family after you pass away, you should consult with an experienced attorney. The estate planning team at Teague Campbell can help you understand your options for creating a will and complementing that basic document with trusts and other special financial arrangements. Contact us today by starting a live online chat on our website.