What is a Will?

Wills. What are they anyway? Most adults know it’s something you need to do when, well, you’re an adult. But few people really “get” what it does. They hear “you must have a will”, but really don’t know why they, as an individual, need one.


More often than not, when I meet with someone dealing with another’s death or I meet with someone planning for themselves beforehand, they are confused on what a will actually does. There are misconceptions all over the place about this stuff. And there is one misconception I hear time and time again.

Do you want to know what it is?

Are you sure?


The misconception is that having a will prevents probate. A will does not prevent probate.

If you’ve read this blog before, this isn’t new information. Wills say what happens to assets that are “stuck”. Assets that are Thing 2 assets. These are the assets that don’t have some document out there that says what happens next (like a deed or a beneficiary designation) or aren’t owned by something that survives you (like a trust or a business). By default, those assets are owned by your estate.

And a will says what happens to your estate.

I heard that too. It was a light bulb. Going off. Above your head.

So what happens if you die and don’t have a will? Well your stuff still goes someplace. Every state has “intestacy” laws. What’s that mean? It’s Latin for “no will”. Each state has made presumptions about where you would’ve wanted your stuff to go, based on your family situation. Typically your stuff goes to your next of kin. Wills also state who’s responsible for getting your assets where they’re supposed to go and can state who you want to have take care of your kids and manage the money on their behalf. If you don’t have a will that nominates someone, the state will make a presumption.

It fills in the blanks that you left.

Want to hear something crazy?

Not everyone needs a will.

There. I said it.

But doesn’t every responsible adult have one!?!

Every responsible adult has taken the time to understand what they have, where they want it to go, and talked to someone to figure out the best way to get it there.

For a vast majority of people, that means a will. People who don’t want to rely on the state’s presumptions, need a will.

People who want to not have one of their next of kin get stuff, don’t want their one of their next of kin to have the responsibility, people who want to give to charities, people in blended families… basically anyone whose plan is more complicated than how the state fills in the blanks, needs a will.

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