When a person dies without a will, their property passes by their state’s default rules, called intestacy laws. Quite frankly, intestacy laws do not represent the wishes of many people. One common example would be a person who is survived by a spouse and three children. Rather than the spouse inheriting everything, they only take one-third of the departed’s estate, while each child would take two-ninths.

Intestacy laws are also unaware of the friends, charitable causes, and relationships you value. They may not provide for the people you want to make sure are taken care of, and they may not address other things like who you want to look after your pets when you’re gone. The state assumes that if you care about those things, and aren’t satisfied with their defaults, you’ll get a will. If you don’t, the state will divide your property based solely on degrees of legal relationships.

A will is the cornerstone of any estate plan, and is the one document that you’re likely to need regardless of the size of your estate. Whether paired with trusts or standing alone, a will can set forth who takes specific property in different circumstances; who will manage your affairs after you’ve died; who takes care of your children if you and your spouse die; and many other potential issues. Because you don’t know exactly what the circumstances surrounding yourself, your family, and your finances will be at the time of your death, it’s important to have a well-drafted will to protect your wishes as circumstances change over time.