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What Is a Last Will and Testament, and Who Needs One?

By Allison Kade Aug 24, 2023

In this article

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

How a Last Will and Testament Works

What Happens if I Die Without Making a Will?

Who Needs a Last Will and Testament?

Why Is a Will Important?

Who Can Make a Last Will and Testament?

A last will and testament is one of those things you probably don’t want to think about on a random Sunday at the park. It's also one of those things you’ll be so glad you did.

Fun or not, we should all consider what would happen to our loved ones if we died. Writing a will is especially important if you’re a parent or have people who depend on you.

Full disclosure: Fabric offers a free online will you can create in five minutes, plus instructions on how to make it legally binding.

In fact, more than 70 percent of the people making a printable will online with Fabric have kids under age 18.

But kids aren't the only reason to make a will. Do you support a parent? A significant other? A sibling? Among customers under age 45 without young kids (who provided beneficiary details), 34 percent chose a parent as the person to inherit their assets. Meanwhile, 26 percent chose a significant other such as a spouse.

Creating a last will and testament is important, and it can also be surprisingly simple. 

What Is a Last Will and Testament?

A last will and testament is a legal document that determines what happens to your property if you die. It lays out whom your belongings should go to, how and who’s in charge of making that happen. 

Making a will also gives you the opportunity to name an executor (the person responsible for distributing your assets) and a legal guardian for your children.

How a Last Will and Testament Works

A last will and testament is a document you write when you’re still alive, and the instructions in it are carried out after your death. It’s an important component of your estate plan, which ensures your affairs are settled the way you want—including who receives your assets and who will serve as legal guardian to your dependents. A will can also include arrangements for surviving accounts or care of another individual, such as an elderly parent.

The last will and testament names another person as an executor of the estate, which is the individual who’s responsible for making sure the estate is administered. Typically, the probate court supervises the executor to make sure all of the wishes in the will are followed.  To be legally valid, a last will and testament needs to be signed by an individual who’s of sound mind and mentally capable. Most states have other guidelines, such as requiring the signatures of two unrelated adults.

What Happens if I Die Without Making a Will?

If you don’t have a last will and testament in place when you die, that's known as dying "intestate." In those cases, the government will figure out how to deal with your property. Payable on death accounts, not governed by a last will and testament, will go to the people you've specified on those accounts. Otherwise, the courts will try to identify your heirs and distribute your assets accordingly in a process called probate. The state will also figure out who should claim guardianship of your children.

For many people, simply sitting down to think through these questions can make a tremendous difference. Of course, if your situation is complex or if you have specific questions, it’s a good idea to speak with a qualified legal professional.

Who Needs a Last Will and Testament?

Any legal adult might benefit from a will, particularly if they want to lay out their last wishes and what should be done with their assets if they were to pass away. Wills are particularly important, however, for parents and those with financial dependents. If someone depends on you financially, a will (along with life insurance) can grant you the peace of mind that you've arranged to provide for them in your absence.

And if you've got children under 18, a will can be a crucial way to designate the person you'd like to be your kids' legal guardian if you (and their other parent) were no longer around.

Here's how one real mom created her will, and the choices she made.

Why Is a Will Important?

First, a will allows you to lay out your wishes for your estate and your children's legal guardians. Beyond that, if you didn't have a will and your estate went to probate, you wouldn't be able to leave assets to non-relatives. Similarly, you wouldn't be able to cut certain relatives out of your estate. That's because courts typically defer to who's most closely related to you, rather than any nuance of feeling you might have had with that person.

Who Can Make a Last Will and Testament?

In broad terms, you should be able to make a will if you're of legal age (for the most part, that means 18 years old). You also should be of "sound mind." What does that entail?

  • You understand what a will is and what the document means before you sign it

  • You know the people listed in your will and what your relationship is to them

  • You grasp what your assets are, in terms of type and amounts, and this reflects how you want to pass those assets down

Note that there could be exceptions to the age qualification if you are married, a member of the military or are legally emancipated.

Once you've decided that you're ready, check out our guide on how to write your last will and testament, read through our last will and testament FAQs or dive in and make yours online with Fabric today.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Written by

Allison Kade

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