A Will is a written legal document that dictates how to distribute your estate after your death. An estate consists of all real property (land), personal property (stocks, bank accounts, cars) and intangible property (claims, interests, rights) that the individual owns at death.
A will allows you to personalize the distribution of your property. If you do not make a will, you are said to have died "intestate" and, with certain exceptions, your possessions are distributed according to Ohio law. If you are married, both you and your spouse should have coordinated wills because each of you may have property that you would like to dispose of separately. Also, if one spouse inherits the other spouse's estate but does not have a will of his or her own, the second estate may not be distributed as wished when the surviving spouse dies.
Only about half the states recognize "home-made wills." Because many such wills contain imprecise language, they may be successfully attacked in court and declared invalid. Therefore, it is best not to attempt a do-it-yourself will.
Living Trusts vs. Wills: What`s the Difference?
Living trusts and wills allow you to choose how your property will be distributed after death. Although there are other issues to consider, the primary advantage of a living trust is that it can make it easier to avoid probate. Property transferred into a living trust before death does not go through probate.
It is important to understand that:
- A living trust is not the only way to avoid probate. The rules about probate and avoiding probate are often different in different states. It is best to check with an attorney to find out more information.
- Most states have rules that allow small estates to be administered outside of probate or through an "expedited" probate process. These rules are different in each state. You can find out more from the Clerk (or Register) of Wills or from a local attorney.
Wills and Life Insurance
Life insurance policies in no way take the place of having a will. If your policy is payable to your estate after death, the proceeds will be distributed according to your will. If the policy benefits are payable to a beneficiary other than your estate, such as your spouse or another relative, your will has no effect on the distribution.