Do I Really Need a Will?

Our clients have often asked us “Do I really need a will?  This question often comes up because the client feels that “the law will take care of it when I die”, or the client doesn’t think they have a lot of property or money to worry about, or because the client thinks that they have already disposed of their property by other means such as a deed, a beneficiary designation for an account, a trust, or some other transfer besides a will that, unlike a will, allows the client to avoid a probate procedure in Superior Court.

The law will only take care of distributing your property if the law follows the way you want the property distributed. People who want their property distributed in a specific fashion should not depend on state law to do that job for them.

The other reasons stated above may be reasons for believing that a will is not needed for the purpose of distributing their property on death, when looked at very narrowly; however, a will has other purposes as well.

First, a will is used to identify a person’s heirs under the law. It is important to do so because will contests are often based on a failure of the testator to adequately state who his or her natural heirs are. This indicates that the testator may lack capacity to make a will. Stating who would legally receive your property if you had no will and died immediately is an important way to lessen the likelihood of any contest, even if some or all of these heirs will not be receiving anything from the will. Stating who your heirs are together with a statement in the will that specifically disinherits any or all of them can be very effective in disinheriting heirs if that is desirable.

Persons with minor children can nominate a guardian for them in their will. Such a nomination will be prioritized by the court over others who might be asked to be so appointed.

Even in the case of a small estate (in Arizona this would mean personal property of $75,000 or less and Real Estate of $100,000 or less) being named in a will entitles a person to utilize a much abbreviated probate procedure for small estates.

Finally, a will is a fail-safe document for property that is never placed in a trust or otherwise transferred outside of the jurisdiction of a probate court. A great example of using a will in this manner in conjunction with a trust is through a pour-over will. This type of will transfers any property subject to a probate proceeding into an existing trust to ensure that the trust provisions for distribution of the property will be applied.