As the saying goes, “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” Eventually, everyone dies, and they generally die owning property of some form or another. That property has to be distributed in some manner to those people who survive the decedent. Over the centuries, in an attempt to minimize disputes over property left behind, the legal concept of the “Will” was developed. 

The concept of a Will is quite simple. It is merely a set of instructions directing how the property of the decedent is to be distributed, and who is in charge of paying the obligations of the decedent and then distributing the assets. A Will can be very simple and straightforward, or it can be very complex, involving many pages of instructions.

Contrary to popular belief, everyone has what amounts to a Will. The key difference, however, is whether you have given the instructions contained in your Will, or whether the State of Arizona writes your Will for you. In short, if you do not take the time to draw up a Will while you are living, the State of Arizona will write one for you after you are gone.

Presently, if Arizona writes your Will for you, your assets will be distributed to your spouse and close blood relations based on formulas established by law. These laws also specify the individual responsible for administering your estate (the “personal representative”). You should consult with an attorney to see exactly how these laws apply to you. In any event, such a “statutory Will” is extremely limited in what it can do. It can not: leave particular items to particular individuals, nor leave instructions as to who is to care for your children, nor distribute assets to non-family members, nor make a charitable contribution, to name just a few. A statutory Will can do only those things that are specified in the law, and in fact, a “statutory Will” may do exactly what you don’t want.

On the other hand, if you take the small amount of time and effort to make your own choices and prepare your own Will, a world of options is available to you. By drafting your own Will, you can choose your own personal representative, and you can leave specific instructions concerning what you wish to happen after you are gone. For example, all of the following are now possible: you can leave specific items to specific individuals (would your nephew like your golf clubs?), you can make charitable gifts, you can leave items to individuals who are not family members (“I give my roommate . . .”), you can divide your estate into unequal shares (“I give 50% of my estate to my brother Tom, 30% to my brother Dick and 20% to my best friend Harry”), you can make provisions for the care of your children (“I want my sister Sue to care for my children after I am gone.”), and you can set up a trust, among many other options. To summarize, a Will in which you make the choices can be as individualized as you are, and can do exactly what you want.

It is well worth the effort to prepare a personalized Will. The time and expense involved are minimal when compared with the benefits you gain when you make your own choices. Most attorneys can prepare a basic Will for $350.00 or less, and prepare such a Will should only require one to two hours of your time. So, why should you have your own Will? When you come right down to it, an individual can make better decisions concerning his or her family and money, than any governmental or legislative entity. Remember, if you don’t make the decisions, the government will make them for you.