Bill Harrington
December 5, 2023

5 Reasons to Get a Will Before It Is Too Late

Having a Will is critically important for just about everyone, regardless of where they are in life.

Estate Planning

Why do you need a Will?

Having a Will is critically important for just about everyone, regardless of where they are in life, yet many people put this off year after year. One of the most important reasons you need a Will is to determine what happens to your assets after you die, but this only touches the surface. A carefully drafted Will can provide for a guardian for your children if you pass away before they reach the age of 18, and can also create trusts for your beneficiaries so that your assets are handled responsibly.

If you pass away without a Will, it is called intestacy. Here, the State will step in and determine how to distribute your estate as per State law. These laws are called “intestacy statutes,” and they may or may not align with what your wishes would have been if you’d written a Will.

What is intestacy?

Intestacy occurs when a person dies without a will. Dying intestate may leave your estate to follow their own laws on how to distribute your property.

What is probate? 

Probate is the process of determining that a will is valid and assigning an individual the authority to administer the estate of the decedent.

Recent Studies on Wills

According to a survey, for 40% of Americans, procrastination was the main reason for not writing a Will, while 33% think they don’t need a Will because they don't have any assets to leave behind. Statistics by The American Bar Association show that about 55% of Americans die without having written a Will or done proper estate planning.

A 2022 survey found that Wills are the most prevalent form of estate planning, but a thorough estate plan should include additional documents such as a durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Health Care Directive, or Living Will.

For now, though, let's focus on just the Will. Here are five very important reasons you need a Will:

1. Appoint an Executor

An executor is responsible for managing the distribution of your assets and ensuring that the wishes you expressed in your Will are carried out exactly as you wrote. Your executor will be in charge of raising the estate, which simply means beginning the process of probate with your county Register of Wills, gathering your assets and making an inventory, notifying creditors of your passing, paying any Inheritance Tax that might be due from your estate assets, and then moving to distribute your assets according to your Will. It’s an important task, so you’ll want to nominate someone you trust. It’s also important to list a few alternate executors in your Will, just in case your first choice is unable to perform their duties.

2. Appoint a Guardian for Your Children

You can also appoint a guardian for your minor children through your Will, in the awful even that both you and your spouse die before they turn 18. This is called a “testamentary guardianship.” This guardian will be legally responsible for taking care of your children and must act in your child's best interest and fulfill their physical, emotional, and financial needs.

Without a Will, the Courts will step in and appoint a guardian for your children. Much like intestacy, while every effort will be made by the Court to appoint someone who is well-suited for the role, their choice may or may not align with what your wishes would have been. It’s a critical decision, so great care must be taken in deciding who to appoint to this role.

What an executor?

An executor is a person who has been assigned the responsibilities of carrying out the terms of a decendent's will and may be appointed through the will or a court.

What is a guardian?

A guardian is an someone who is legally responsible for another person, often a disabled person or an orphaned child. The guardian provides for and looks after that individual.

3. Set Up Trusts

A well-drafted Will can set up “testamentary trusts,” where your assets – instead of going to a beneficiary outright as soon as you pass away – can be held and managed by a trustee for the benefit of the beneficiary. These are frequently used when a beneficiary is a minor or a very young adult, but they can be used in other circumstances where you want to ensure that your assets continue to provide income to your beneficiaries for a long time.

A young family needs estate planning and a will to prepare for the future and make sure their child is taken care of

4. Ease the Probate Process

While almost nobody’s idea of a rollicking good time, the probate process in Pennsylvania is not as soul-crushingly arduous as it might be in other jurisdictions. That said, a Will can help smooth this process even more. A skilled estate attorney will write a Will that is “self-proving.” This means that your nominated executor will be able to present the Will to the county Register of Wills, along some additional supporting documents, and they will be granted the authority to act as executor right then and there. Without a Will, the process of raising an estate can get lengthy and more costly. The Court will first have to determine an administrator of the estate, and each of your surviving heirs will have to agree on who gets appointed and will have to renounce their own right to be appointed. This may or may not be an easy task to accomplish, especially if there is some tension among your heirs. I’ve seen this first-hand, and you’ll want to avoid it. A Will is an important step in that process.

So, a probate court acts on behalf of the deceased and will divide the estate. The court might take longer to make your estate decisions without your will. So, to avoid significant delays in finalizing the estate and distributing the inheritances, it is necessary to have a will.

5. Minimize Potential Disputes

None of us want to leave our loved ones a financial and emotional mess to deal with after we die, and no one welcomes the prospect of their family members fighting over money. Therefore, it is best to make a Will and decide these things beforehand.

Your Will makes it clear how you want your assets to be distributed, and only in rare circumstances are the wishes of the testator – the person who wrote the Will – overruled. The distribution of your property must be done according to the Will, even if your heirs might disagree. Having a Will when you die can decrease the chances of potential disputes among various family members.

Moreover, a Will can also instruct as to who will not receive an inheritance. This is called “disinheriting,” and should be set out explicitly in the Will so as to leave no confusion. The disinherited person certainly won’t be happy, but with a written Will in place, their ability to challenge the estate distribution will be sharply limited.


When you write your Will, it is your wishes that will take center stage. However, a skilled estate attorney can work with you to ensure that your Will accomplishes all of the things that a Will can accomplish. In addition, an estate attorney will draft your Will such that the process of probate – if it becomes necessary at all – is made as seamless as possible. Your executor will thank you later for your diligence today!

Attorney William P. Harrington, Jr., ESQ.

Bill Harrington

Bill is an experienced attorney in estate planning and administration, credit card debt litigation, bankruptcy, and personal injury. He lives in Kinzers, PA, with his wife and three children.
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