More commonly known as a will, a “will and testament” is a legal document that outlines your wishes for property distribution after you die. Even if you’re using other estate planning tools, you should always have a will, as it will help you spell out exactly how you want things, even after you have passed.
One reason why having a will is important is that the will can prevent the interference of “intestate succession” laws. In most states, these laws assume that you will want to leave your assets behind to your spouse, children, or parents.
If you want to leave gifts to friends, neighbors, or charitable organizations, you must lay out your intentions in a will. On the other hand, having a will can help you disinherit individuals who would otherwise inherit your estate under the rules of intestate succession. For example, if you have gone through a divorce, you may want to use a will to remove your former spouse from your inheritance.
While distributing property is the central goal of most wills, you can also use your will to:
- Name an personal representative: A will allows you to choose who will pay off your old bills, cancel your credit cards, and otherwise wind-up the affairs of your estate.
- Choose guardians for your children: Without a will, the court will decide who is in charge of raising your children after you’re gone. Typically, the state appoints a guardian or chooses a family member, but a will can clarify if you have someone specific in mind.
- Create trusts: If your children are still young, you may choose to set up a trust. You can use your will to outline how and when your beneficiaries may spend their inheritance.
- Forgive debts and make donations: A will is the only way to specify which debts should be forgiven and which charitable donations should be made. Donations can be excluded from estate tax and thus increase the value of any inheritance you leave behind.
The following study is a story from Mr. Thomas J. Percy and is an example of what can happen when someone dies without a valid will:
Last week, I met with a man who had recently lost his mother. He was one of two children of the decedent, but his sister and mother had been estranged for decades, and he was his mother’s sole caretaker.
The decedent’s estate plan consisted only of a trust, which she believed would replace her need for a will. A trust, however, can only dispose of the assets it owns. Because the decedent had acquired other assets since forming the trust, and had never transferred them into the trust, and because she had no will to assign those new assets into the trust upon her death, the son had to go through probate to dispose of those assets.
During probate, the assets, intended by the decedent to reimburse her son for his many years of financial support were unfortunately split between her son and estranged daughter. Because of the lack of a will, the decedent’s estranged daughter is now a 50% beneficiary of assets meant for her son.
Tragically, these circumstances could have been prevented by a simple legal document.
Adding a Will to Your Estate Plan
At Percy Law Group, PC, we are available to help you draft both simple and complex wills to help you accurately specify your final wishes.
Don’t let the court decide what is best for your family. Call us today at (508) 718-2545 or set up a free initial consultation online.