A question that is often asked in the estate planning context is whether a Last Will
and Testament (“Will”) is actually needed. The answer, like all things in life, is it
depends. It is possible, depending upon your assets, how those assets are owned,
and your family composition, to arrange the assets in your estate in such a way that
your assets will pass according to your wishes without having a will.
The reason this is possible, in part, is because of the distinction between probate
and non-probate assets. Non-probate assets, such as assets with a beneficiary
designation, a payable on death or transfer on death designation, or assets that are
jointly owned already designate the person or persons who will receive those assets
at your death. These non-probate assets pass outside of your will to the designated person without
requiring a probate proceeding. Probate assets are all assets that are not non-probate assets.
Consequently, if each of your assets is set up in non-probate form;
there will be no assets that will be subject to your will.
Another reason a person may not need a will is if they are satisfied with how their
assets will pass without one. If a person dies without a will owning assets that are
not set up in non-probate form, the assets will pass according to the laws of
intestacy in the state in which you were domiciled at your death.