Far too many people die without having a will to help dispense their assets after their death. In fact, according to recent studies, almost 70% of Americans die intestate — i.e., without a last will and testament. When you’re assembling an estate plan, a last will and testament should be at the top of your list. Not having one can be disastrous for many reasons.
Make sure your wishes are carried out
If you die without a will, the state in which you live decides who gets what. Many people feel that they simply don’t need a will because their assets will pass to their spouse or children. This is a often a mistake, especially if you have other desires or a non-standard family situation. Having a will helps you prepare for the unexpected.
When you die without a will, you leave the decision of who gets what up to the state and its statutes. In this case, it does not matter what your wishes are if you have not written a will. The law will decide for you. One example of the courts taking a unique turn you may not expect is in Virginia…
If you die without a will in Virginia, your estate generally passes to your surviving spouse if you are married. But, if you have step-children not from your spouse, your children receive two-thirds of your estate, and your spouse receives the remaining one third. Of course, this may not be the way you wanted your assets divided and why you need a will.
Who will be your children’s guardian?
Another important aspect of having a will is making sure you have a say in who cares for your kids in case you and your spouse die at the same time. In your will, you can name a person who will serve as guardian in the event of your death. In conjunction with your will, you can also include a trust that can help provide for the support and education for your children. These are critical tools that should be the basis of your estate planning.
You need a will when you have an atypical family
Do you have children from a previous marriage? Are you living with someone who isn’t technically your spouse? Are you in a same sex marriage? Do you have people in your life who are like family but aren’t related by blood? Do you have blood relatives that you would prefer not receive anything from your estate after you die? Do you have a special needs child? In these cases, you need a will to make sure you’re wishes are carried out.
Without a will, most states will direct your assets to your biological heirs. When you have step-children, the interpretation of your will can become more difficult, and there’s a greater need to clearly spell out your wishes. It’s very important to include explicit instructions for any unique family situations. A last will and testament can also be a good tool for excluding people from your estate.
Special instructions others need to know
Do you have a family heirloom that needs to stay in the family? Do you want to pass down your some important collection (stamps, baseball cards, antiques, guns, etc.) to your children instead of having them sold? A will can provide specific bequests or special instructions to your executor to be carried out and passed down based on what you want done.
Don’t leave things to chance or, even worse, for the government to decide. Far too many people in America die intestate, leading to unnecessary complications for their heirs. A will may not be the only document thing you need in your estate plan, but it’s a good place to start.
Do you have a will? If not, what’s been keeping you from writing one?