A Will is a legal document that takes effect at death. It expresses your wishes for your property, how your assets will be distributed, who will do the distributing (called a “personal representative” in Missouri and Kansas), and who will be the guardian for your minor children. A will does not mean that your family can avoid probate court proceedings upon your passing. A will forms instructions for a probate judge, who will admit your will to probate, then appoint a personal representative to take charge of your estate. This person would then be responsible for administering your estate as you have expressed in your Will.
Your Will, when properly prepared and executed, establishes sole discretion over the distribution of your possessions and property when you pass away, whether to family, friends, or charity. This can also help defend against family disputes, as it expresses your exact wishes.
Guardianship is an important position to consider and plan for if you have minor children. While it is not a topic anyone wants to consider, it is a vital step in your planning that should not be overlooked. Should the unthinkable happen, who will care for your children? Would you prefer a family member or close friend? Your Will is the document that allows you to express your wishes for your children, should you be unable to care for them yourself. Without your wishes expressed, petitions for guardianship would be filed with the court, starting a process that can be both expensive and time consuming for family members to dispute the control of your children.
Often the question is asked, should I have a will or a trust? The answer is, yes! A good estate plan includes both. A trust would control assets and distributions without probate proceedings–as long as assets have been titled with the trust. The will, as needed, serves as a back-up: it directs any incorrectly titled assets to the trust, and it establishes guardians for minor children if such a need would arise.
It is important to remember when creating a will or any other estate documents that, as times passes, they need to be reviewed to ensure that your wishes are still accurately expressed. Situations may change and you will want your documents to reflect those changes, when necessary.
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