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 his/her death.
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 surety bond.
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 them.
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 needs.
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, adoption).
□ 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 a will.
□ Change in guardians, personal representatives, or trustees.
□ Children reach the age of eighteen.
□ A substantial increase or decrease in the value of your estate.
□ 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 years.