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What is the purpose of a will in an estate plan?

Almost all adults have heard that they need a will as part of their estate plan. What many adults might not realize is that a will isn't always the end-all-be-all tool to get assets where you want them. Instead, the will is only one tool that you can use.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a will. It simply means that you need to learn about the purpose, function and limitations of a will before you start working on one.

What does a will do?

A will is a road map of sorts. It outlines what you want to happen to specific assets. These points must be followed unless there is a legal standing that requires them to be bypassed. For example, some wills contain disinheritance clauses, but these might not always be legal. Additionally, a will must be executed properly to be considered legally valid in probate court. Your loved ones can contest the will if they have a legal standing and valid reason to do so.

What are the limitations of a will?

A will can only transfer assets that are governed by the probate court. Some assets, such as accounts with a payable upon death designation and those that have beneficiaries listed aren't able to be included in a will. Examples of these include bank accounts with this designation and life insurance policies. Assets that are held in trusts can't be distributed via a will. Instead, the terms of the trust will dictate how these are handled.

Your will can also name the person who will handle your estate. This person is known as the executor of your estate. Having everything in your estate plan in order can make life much easier for this person and all of your loved ones.

Source: FindLaw, "Estate Administration: The Will After Death," accessed Jan. 11, 2018

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