A will is an instrument used to plan for the distribution of your assets at the time of your death. A will is an important form of estate planning that can range from simple to complicated. A properly designed will at a minimum should include arrangements for how to pay for your funeral, who should be named as your executor/executrix, what assets you have, and who should be entitled to receive those assets.
A will has some advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage to a will is the rather simple form that it takes; it is a piece of paper, that when properly executed, will give others a game plan to follow with your assets upon your death. It is also relatively inexpensive to make.
The main disadvantage to a will is the fact that it can be expensive to probate. A will must be probated to prove the intentions of the person creating the will (testator) were spelled out in the trust. In Pennsylvania, attorney’s usually charge a commission (upon approval by the Orphan’s court) to probate an estate. This fee usually ends up costing more than the price of creating a trust, which will eliminate the need for probating an estate. Another disadvantage is the likelihood of a will contest stemming from an error in executing the will. Executing the will is fancy way of simply saying “will formation.” In Pennsylvania, the person creating the will must not be under undue influence form a third party when creating the will. Often times one or more persons will claim the testator was under an undue influence by a third party and the resulting will was not the made with the true intentions of the testator. This could result in a will contest, delay distribution of assets to the heirs of the will, and cause the costs of the probate to significantly increase.
Lastly, other factors could make a will a poor choice for estate planning. This might be the case if a person holds property in several states. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, for instance, many people own shore property in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. If a will is used for estate planning purposes, the will must admitted for probate in all states the property is owned in if the will is used as an instrument to distribute that property. This is obviously prohibitive because of the cost and time it takes to probate a will in another state.