I’m making a new will. This is, I think, the sixth will I’ve drawn up in my lifetime. As I grow older and my circumstances change, I realize that leaving a valid will accomplishes several things. First and foremost, it expresses my wishes for the legal disposition of the contents of my estate and of my physical remains. Second, it provides guidance for the probate court and for an administrator or executor in performing the duties associated with my stated wishes. Finally, a will provides the beginning of a paper trail that can be researched by other people – including genealogists.
The probate process in most places in the United States is based on the laws we inherited from our English ancestors. Centuries ago, a will and a testament were two separate documents. One addressed the disposition of real property (land and property) while the other focused on matters concerning an individual’s body and his or her personal property. Over time, however, the two documents were combined into the single “last will and testament” used by most people today. Certainly there are other documentary instruments for managing the disposition and distribution of estates. A codicil is a document that alters the directions of an existing will without having to go through a complete rewriting of that document. Another special example is a trust which, when properly drawn up and funded, does not die when the creator dies. A trust allows a trustee to take over management of the trust’s components without the trouble and expense of going to court for the appointment of a conservator if the testator becomes disabled. It also avoids the probate process and facilitates a trustee to immediately take over all management of the trust, payment of bills, and distribution of the assets indefinitely until the trust is dissolved (if ever).
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