A Last Will & Testament is an essential part of anyone’s estate planning as it explains how someone wants their property given away or used after their death. Someone who creates a Will is called a testator (or testatrix) and the assets they leave behind through their Will are called their “probate estate”. A Will can be drafted to place restrictions on gifted property, designate preferred guardians for children, and even create testamentary trusts.
A Will also does not transfer property owned in trust created outside the Will or other property such as bank accounts or real estate held as joint tenants, tenants by the entirety, or with pay on death designations.
If someone dies without a Will they are considered to have died “intestate” and their probate property will pass based on the intestacy law of the State or District in which they live. In Maryland and D.C. such property typically will go to a spouse and children of the testator or, if they died without immediate family, to more distant relatives or even to the State in which they lived. Although that may suit the desires of some, for many people that statutory distribution is much different from how they would have liked to have given away their assets.