So as to not exclude wills from our conversation this month, here are a few facts about Wills that we often have to clarify for clients:
Wills are not only for wealthy people: This is a common myth. Last wills and testaments (also known simply as wills) are not just for the wealthy. In a will, you can outline who you want to receive your possessions when you die; this might include your money, your real estate, and items of sentimental value.
If you have children who have not yet reached adulthood, you also would be well advised to have a prepared a valid will in which you name a guardian. Even if you do not own enough property to justify a last will, it is important to create one expressing your wishes about how – and to whom – you want your property distributed at your death.
Wills do not expire: After taking the time to create a will, doing it again is probably the last thing you want to do. Fortunately, a last will does not expire. However, your estate documents should always reflect your most recent property and life changes. For example, if you marry, divorce, have children, or acquire or lose property, reviewing and updating your last will and testament is prudent. Consider revisiting your will and other estate planning documents with an attorney at least every decade.
If you die without a will, state law governs the disposition of your property through a body of law called intestate succession.
Dying without a will is called dying intestate. Intestate succession is a legal process under which a state’s intestacy laws dispose of an intestate person’s property. Intestacy laws vary depending on the state, but typically close relatives receive a share of an intestate person’s property. Your immediate family (i.e. spouse, children, parents, and siblings) will often inherit first. If you do not have immediate family members, more remote relatives, like grandparents, may inherit your property through intestate succession.
Your spouse may not inherit everything if you pass without a will: Your spouse may not immediately inherit your property if you die without a last will. Usually, if your property passes through intestate succession and you are married with children, your spouse receives a spousal share of your estate. The amount of a spousal share can vary depending on your state’s laws.
A last will is an important part of your estate plan. It’s a good start, but it does not convey certain powers. You may want to consider supplementing it with other key estate planning documents. For example, suppose you become unexpectedly impaired during your lifetime and can no longer handle your own affairs or communicate your wishes. You would benefit from a health care directive that expresses your desires for any medical treatment you receive. With a durable power of attorney in place, you also can ensure that an individual you trust handles decision-making regarding such matters as your financial, legal, and medical needs.
Despite the fact that everyone would benefit from having a will, the majority of Americans have not yet put together any type of estate plan.