A will is a legal document which:

  • Names individuals (or charitable organizations) who will receive your assets after your death, either by outright gift or in a trust.
  • Nominates an executor who will be appointed and supervised by the probate court to manage your estate; pay your debts, expenses and taxes; and distribute your estate according to the instructions in your will.
  • Nominates guardians for your minor children.

A Will is carried out through the probate process. Most assets in your name alone at your death will be subject to your will (probate). Some exceptions include securities accounts and bank accounts that have designated beneficiaries, life insurance policies, IRAs and other tax-deferred retirement plans, and some annuities. Such assets would pass directly to the beneficiaries and would not be included in your will. In addition, certain co-owned assets would pass directly to the surviving co-owner regardless of any instructions in your will. And assets that have been transferred to a revocable living trust would be distributed through the trust—not the probate process administering your will.