If a person dies intestate (without a will), his property will be distributed according to a plan laid out under state law. More often than not, that plan does not reflect the deceased’s actual wishes. A will allows a person to alter the state’s default plan by providing for the distribution of property at the time of death in any manner the person chooses.

Wills can be of various degrees of complexity and can be utilized to achieve a wide range of family and tax objectives. If a will provides for the outright distribution of assets, it is sometimes characterized as a “simple will.” If the will establishes one or more trusts, it is often called a “testamentary will.” In either case, the general purpose of a will is to designate a guardian for minor children, reduce the impact of estate taxes, ensure continued property management for the surviving family members, provide for charities, and dispose of the deceased’s property in any other manner indicated in the will.