A will – or a “last will and testament” – is a legal document that tells the probate court how you want your property distributed after you die, and who has the power and responsibility to wrap up your affairs.

Through the probate process the court will give the “executor” of your will the authority to gather all of your property, pay any remaining creditors’ bills, and distribute your remaining property as you specify in your will.

Because the will takes effect only after a court determined that it is a valid document, a judge must act before your executor can step in and manage your estate.

image: this is the last will

If you die without a will:

  • Persons who fail to plan during their lives and die without creating a will die “intestate.” Dying intestate means no tax planning was done on your behalf.
  • Each state has laws that dictate how an intestate person’s property will be distributed leaving you with absolutely no control. Property may go to people you don’t want and in ways that you never intended.