A document in which a person specifies the method to be applied in the management and distribution of his estate after his death.
A will is the legal instrument that permits a person, the testator, to make decisions on how his estate will be managed and distributed after his death. At Common Law, an instrument disposing of Personal Property was called a "testament," whereas a will disposed of real property. Over time the distinction has disappeared so that a will, sometimes called a "last will and testament," disposes of both real and personal property. A person who drafts a will is sometimes called a "testator."
If a person does not leave a will, or the will is declared invalid, the person will have died intestate, resulting in the distribution of the estate according to the laws of Descent and Distribution of the state in which the person resided. Because of the importance of a will, the law requires it to have certain elements to be valid. Apart from these elements, a will may be ruled invalid if the testator made the will as the result of undue influence, fraud, or mistake.
A will serves a variety of important purposes. It enables a person to select his heirs rather than allowing the state laws of descent and distribution to choose the heirs, who, although blood relatives, might be people the testator dislikes or with whom he is unacquainted. A will allows a person to decide which individual could best serve as the personal representative (executor) of his estate, distributing the property fairly to the beneficiaries while protecting their interests, rather than allowing a court to appoint a stranger to serve as administrator. A will safeguards a testator's right to select an individual to serve as guardian to raise minor children in the event of the testator's death.