A will is a legal document in which a person (the “testator”) names one or more people to manage their estate when they die and gives instruction to those people as to how to distribute their estate. Those named individuals are commonly known as executors, but are called personal representatives in Missouri.
For individuals with minor children, a will can also list the chosen guardians of the minor children if they were to pass away. A will can also create a testamentary trust for minor children, which creates a trust to hold minor children until they are old enough to inherit.
Wills can distribute property by category, by percentage, by dollar figure or in other ways. There are formal requirements in most states as to how a valid will must be created.
A will can typically be revoked or changed at any time by the person who created it. An amendment to a will is called a codicil.
A will that is created in conjunction with a trust is often referred to as a pourover will. In this case, the will acts as a safety net to distribute any assets that were not placed into the trust prior to the death of the person who created the trust.
When a person dies without a will, that is referred to as “dying intestate”, which simply means they died without a will in place and the laws of intestacy of the state where they resided will control the distribution of their estate in probate.
A common misconception about wills is that they avoid probate. A will does not avoid probate, but it does ensure that estate assets are distributed according to the terms of the will rather than by the laws of intestacy, which may greatly differ the terms of distribution.
A will is one of the cornerstones of any good estate plan.