More than half of Americans don’t have a will, guaranteeing that an already difficult time for their family (that is to say, the person’s death) will be that much harder and time consuming to deal with. Having a will makes it easier on your loved ones because it minimizes the amount of time they need to spend with lawyers sorting through your affairs, determining your last wishes, and more. Here, we list out four of the biggest reasons for why you need to have a will already in place.

Decide who will care for minors

The most important thing a will provides for is the care of your family. No other document can outline and definitively select the guardian for any of your children who are still minors. You can select someone you know and trust, and someone that your children know and trust. Without a will, the court will have to carry out proceedings to determine the best course of action, and that may mean they’re put in the care of a family member you would not have chosen, or some other appointed guardian that you did not know at all.

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Assign an executor

An executor is the personal representative that you’ve chosen to wrap up all the affairs of your estate. They have a variety of important responsibilities, including canceling your credit cards, notifying banks and other pertinent businesses of your passing, and ensuring your debts have been paid. They’re also somewhat in charge of the distribution of your estate. If you don’t name an executor in your will, one will be appointed by the court. If you don’t have a will at all, this appointed agent cannot act to best serve your final wishes because they won’t know them.

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Decide how your estate should be distributed

While a trust can best ensure that your estate is reliably given to the beneficiaries of your choice, a will is the most basic form of providing for that division in probate court. A will allows you to state which family members or other inheritors (such as friends, colleagues, or mentors) should or should not receive specific items, benefits, or other parts of your estate. In lieu of a named executor, the court will be in charge of dividing and distributing your estate. This can make the probate process even longer and more complicated.

A will can help limit family disputes over your assets, especially if your family is divided by divorce or otherwise estranged. You see, through the probate process, if you do not have a will, the court must do its best to determine who ought to receive your assets. That means that those you want to inherit your estate may not receive much, if anything at all, and those that you do not want to receive benefits could receive quite a bit. Having a properly drafted and updated will can also help to ensure that if would-be heirs contest it, your wishes will still be carried out.

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