Many people wonder if they really need a
will. They may think that they do not have enough assets
to bother with a will. Some people erroneously believe
that a will causes their heirs to have to go through
probate, leading to unnecessary expenses. However, a
will is a good idea for everyone.
A will is a document in which a person declares what
he/she wants done with his/her property when he/she
dies. A will has no effect until the person who wrote
it, known as the testator, dies. The testator can also
revoke or change his/her will at any time prior to
If you die without a will, the state will determine who
gets your property. The state statutes might call for a
distribution that is similar to what you want. Then
again, maybe not.
State intestacy laws will provide how the sum total of
your property is divided among your heirs. It does not
provide for who will get certain specific items of your
property. This can lead to many problems. Your heirs may
not agree on who will get certain items of your personal
property. For example, say you have inherited your
grandmother's wedding ring and want your daughter to
receive this ring upon your death. If you die without a
will explaining that your daughter should receive it,
your son may feel very strongly that his wife should
have it. If your son and daughter cannot agree, then the
State will force the administrator to sell the ring.
So even if you don't have a lot of assets, you may be
concerned about making sure that certain items of your
property go to the people that you want them to. You can
do this with a will.
Another misconception about having a will is that having
a will causes your heirs to have to go through a
difficult and expensive probate process. If you die
without a will, the Court will still oversee the
distribution of your assets to your heirs. Without a
will, the Probate process will probably be more
expensive. For one thing, whoever administers your
estate will probably have to post a surety bond if you
don't have a will. If you do have a will, not only can
you choose the person who will administer your estate,
you can provide that he or she will not have to post a
Do you have minor children? If so, you really need a
will. If you don't have one, the probate court will have
to set up a guardianship to manage your children's share
of your property. A judge will decide who manages the
money. When each child turns 18, he or she will get
his/her share, whether they can handle it or not. If you
have a will, you can decide who will manage your
children's inheritance on their behalf, and you can
choose the age at which you want it to be distributed to
Even if your estate is small, there are good reasons to
have a will. You should see an attorney who practices in
the area of estate planning or wills and trusts. This
attorney can also help you decide if you need more
advanced estate planning techniques and help you
implement an estate plan that is best suited to your
Checklist: Reasons to Update Your Will & Estate Planning Documents
Once they make a will, many people will put it in a safe
deposit box or leave a copy with their attorney, and forget
about it. However, there are many reasons to review and
update your will and other estate planning documents. Below
is a checklist of events that may prompt you to do so.
□ The individuals you have named are deceased.
□ New people should be named in your will (e.g. birth,
□ Divorce or marriage.
□ New state laws. You need to periodically check to see
whether your state has enacted new laws that impact your
estate planning documents. More importantly, if you move to
a different state, don't assume that your will made in your
previous state conforms to the requirements of your new
state. Each state has its own legal requirements for making
□ Change in guardians, personal representatives, or trustees.
□ Children reach the age of eighteen.
□ A substantial increase or decrease in the value of your
□ The acquisition or disposition of a significant asset.
□ The passage of time is reason enough. You should review your
will and estate planning documents every three to five