A will is essentially the same thing as a testament. It is a written document that communicates the way a person wants to have his or her assets dispersed after death. Since a person can change his or her will as circumstances change, it is only the last (most recent) will/testament that is in force. Sometimes a will/testament will disperse property directly to individuals, and sometimes the person may establish a trust (testamentary trust) that will establish ongoing regulations for distributing the wealth. A testamentary trust may be established to limit the amount of money an heir can access within a certain time period. It may also establish certain qualifications for continued access to the inheritance. For instance, if an heir does not maintain employment, fails a drug test, or is convicted of a felony, he or she may lose access to the funds held in trust.
When King Hezekiah was ill, the prophet Isaiah told him, “Put your house in order, because you are going to die” (Isaiah 38:1). Obviously, it is wise to prepare for the event of one’s death. The Bible does not directly address whether a Christian should prepare a will since wills are a modern convention. In ancient times, inheritance laws were more rigid, and wealth was, by default, distributed by law. Christians today have a choice about what happens to their assets, and it would seem that good stewardship demands that they use that choice to make the most of their assets. In some cases, leaving large amounts of money or other assets to their children may not be a wise choice, so a testamentary trust might be the better choice. Christians also have the opportunity to support ministries after their death. There is no biblical principle that parents must leave everything they have to their children, and in many cases other individuals or ministries may be needier or may make better use of those assets. If a person dies intestate (without a will), the assets will be distributed according to state law, which will not include distributions to any Christian ministries and very often will not reflect the priorities of the Christian who has died.
More crucial than the distribution of assets is the establishing of guardianship for minor children. The “nearest living relative,” not to mention a foster home or state facility, may not be the best choice. A will can establish who will take care of the children. The Christian will want to make sure the guardian is also a believer who will continue to raise the children in a Christian home.
To be valid, a will must be prepared and filed according to state law. Some states are very specific in their requirements, and others are quite lenient. To be sure, it is best to consult an attorney and spend the two or three hundred dollars (in most cases) to make sure that the will meets all state legal requirements so that the final wishes that reflect Christian priorities will be honored.