By: David Barker J.D.
The common phrase, “You can’t take it with you,” is part true, part false! Having a will in place does allow you to take something with you, that is it allows you to have the satisfaction, comfort and peace of mind of knowing that you left your possessions behind where they would do the greatest good. You earned it, so you should direct it, even after your demise. For the majority of people, this direction includes specific provisions for their spouse, children and relatives. However, in this changing world a will provides you with the constant, that you may direct assets to certain causes and charities such as educational, religious and other philanthropic organizations that you may have been involved with during your lifetime to carry on the goals and intentions that helped guide your life.
So you may ask, what if I do not have a will? If you do not have a will when you die, your estate property will be divided according to intestate succession rules, which may not distribute your assets as you would have desired. These so-called intestacy laws vary considerably from state to state. In general, though, if you die and leave a spouse and kids, your assets will be split between your surviving mate and children. If you’re single with no children, then the state is likely to decide who among your blood relatives will inherit your estate. Simply put, a will is a document that lets you tell the world whom you want to get your assets. Die without one, and the state decides who gets what, without regard to your wishes or needs of your heirs’. Further, die without one and in certain situations, having no heirs at law may result in the state getting your property. Few people desire this result.
A will provides you with flexibility during your lifetime. You may amend your will at any time. In fact, it’s a good idea to review your will periodically and especially when your marital status changes and/or your heirs’ pass first. A will allows you to give more to one child. A will also allows you to leave money to a non-relative i.e. unrelated third party, this is especially critical in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages. By making a will, you may also legally disinherit a child or heir by specifically stating the desire to do so. Failure to mention a child in a will is not sufficient to disinherit. A will avoids family squabbles and minimizes litigation that may result from said squabbles. Unfortunately, if you died without a will, the first person back from the funeral, not necessarily the person you would have chosen, could end up with your personal effects. Through a will, you may appoint a responsible person to sort out all of your financial matters after your death to ensure that your family and heirs receive what is rightfully theirs. With a will you may also appoint a guardian for your children or for handicapped adults you wish to protect after your death.
With the help of your attorney, preparing a will may be accomplished without too much effort or expense. Few care to dwell on death and its aftermath, but having a will drawn up is a responsibility and a duty every adult should undertake. By having a will and preparing for the dissolution of your estate, you will feel assured that you have done your best for your family and you will have exercised your right to direct the disposition of what you worked so hard for during your lifetime.