A will, also known as a Last Will and Testament, is a legally enforceable declaration of how a person wants his property or assets to be distributed after death. In a will, a person can also recommend a guardian for his minor children and make provisions for any surviving pets.


Making a will is a very important component of estate planning. In it, the writer expresses his decisions about who gets his belongings and assets when he dies. If an individual dies without leaving a will, the distribution of his property is left up to the government, and may even end up becoming state property. A will ensures that the person's wishes are carried out, and it can make things easier for his heirs.

The Executor

In the will, the writer names an executor for his estate. This person is charged with overseeing the liquidation and distribution of the decedent's assets according to the terms of the will, and paying off outstanding debts and taxes on the estate. An executor may be an attorney or financial expert, but it can be anyone the writer of the will trusts to act responsibly. The executor may be entitled to receive a reasonable fee for his services. Fee guidelines may be mandated by the state.

Elements of a Will

Although the format of wills can vary, most follow a fairly uniform layout. The document usually begins with a statement that the writer is of legal age and making the will freely and without duress. It also attests to the writer's mental soundness at the time the will was made. This section establishes the writer's identity and includes an explicit statement that this final will rescinds all previous documents.

After naming an executor and guardian for any minor children, the will should discuss insurance policies that already have a named beneficiary. This section may also itemize joint bank accounts and property that is co-owned with other individuals.

The bequest section of the will specifies beneficiaries for all the deceased person's property or assets, except for insurance policies and joint accounts already covered in a preceding section. Clear and reasonable instructions are important for preventing possible legal challenges that could delay probate and create significant legal expenses.

A will may also include instructions about the writer's funeral and burial wishes. If the decedent has made prior arrangements for a burial plot or funeral expenses, those will usually be discussed in this section.

Most states require that the will be witnessed by two individuals and signed by the writer at the end of the document. After death, the will is submitted to the probate court of the county or city in which the individual resided. The probate process can be fairly quick or protracted, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether there are legal challenges to the will.

  1. Gross Estate

    The total dollar value of all property and assets in which an ...
  2. Personal Representative

    The executor or administrator for the estate of a deceased person. ...
  3. Executor

    An individual appointed to administrate the estate of a deceased ...
  4. Probate Court

    The segment of the judicial system primarily charged with handling ...
  5. Decedent

    A decedent is a term for a deceased person, most often used by ...
  6. Intestate

    The act of dying without a legal will. Determining the distribution ...
Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    7 Tips for Choosing the Right Estate Executor

    Use these seven steps to select the right executor for your estate.
  2. Retirement

    The Importance of Creating a Will

    Creating a will is an essential part of financial planning.
  3. Managing Wealth

    4 Things To Consider Before Becoming An Estate Executor

    Executing a will takes more work than you might think. Make sure you are up to the task before agreeing to be an executor.
  4. Retirement

    Why and How You Should Keep an Estate Out of Probate

    Including certain documents and designations in your estate planning can help your beneficiaries avoid the costs and headache of probate.
  5. Managing Wealth

    Why You Should Draft A Will

    Don't trust the courts to follow your wishes - plan the distribution of your own assets.
  6. Financial Advisor

    How Life Insurance Can Help Reduce Estate Taxes

    Inheritance is a double-edged sword, as leaving money can create estate tax burdens. Opting for a life insurance plan can help mitigate those burdens.
  1. How is maintenance of standard of living for survivors accomplished in estate planning?

    Understand what elements of an estate plan can assist in creating certainty for survivors that allows them to maintain their ... Read Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Money Market

    The money market is a segment of the financial market in which financial instruments with high liquidity and very short maturities ...
  2. Perfect Competition

    Pure or perfect competition is a theoretical market structure in which a number of criteria such as perfect information and ...
  3. Compound Interest

    Compound Interest is interest calculated on the initial principal and also on the accumulated interest of previous periods ...
  4. Income Statement

    A financial statement that measures a company's financial performance over a specific accounting period. Financial performance ...
  5. Leverage Ratio

    A leverage ratio is any one of several financial measurements that look at how much capital comes in the form of debt, or ...
  6. Annuity

    An annuity is a financial product that pays out a fixed stream of payments to an individual, primarily used as an income ...
Trading Center