What Does a Will Do?

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When estates are planned correctly, a will helps an individual say where his or her money goes after death. Learn what wills do from an estate planning and probate lawyer in this free video on estate law.

Part of the Video Series: Estate Planning
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Video Transcript

What does a will do? Well a will is what you have if you've done some planning that allows you to say where your money goes when you die, who takes care of your kids if you have minor children when you die. And really those are the two primary functions of a will. A will is something that you draw up. You should use a qualified lawyer to do it, but people do software, they borrow their brothers in law, they sometimes hand write them. The last three--the do it yourself--may or may not work. And it's a real problem if it doesn't because if you either have a will or you don't, if you don't, then you die without a will and there's big problems that come with that. But if you have a valid will, then you can do, again, two things. You can say when I die, I give my property, this property, to my spouse. I give it to my children. I give it my friend. I give it to my favorite charity. The other thing you can do with a will, and this may be the absolutely most important thing, and the biggest reason why people need to get a will, it's if they have minor children. Because if you have minor children and you pass away, you need to say who gets to have custody of your minor kids. If you're married, it's going to be your spouse, almost certainly, if the kids are your spouses kids. If your kids aren't your spouses kids--so you had children prior to this marriage--then your kids are probably going to go back to their natural parent, not to your current spouse. The big problem comes when both parents die. Where do the kids go then? If you don't have a valid, enforceable will--and I cannot emphasize a valid enforceable will more--if you don't have a valid enforceable will, some judge some place is going to pick where your kids go. If you have a valid enforceable will, you get to pick the right person to take care of your kids until they're eighteen years old. There's nothing more important, nothing more critical than doing that. You pick, you do a will. You let the judge pick, you don't do a will. The only problem with the judge picking is the judge doesn't know who to pick, and just like a bad divorce, you could have a custody fight in probate court over who gets your kids. So do a will, do it right.

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