A will, also known as a Last Will & Testament, is the legal document where you name who will get your property after your death. The people, companies, or charities you name are called beneficiaries.
What is in a Will?
In addition to identifying your beneficiaries and setting out the disposition of your property, a will serves a number of other important functions:
Personal Representative: Your will names who you want to serve as your personal representative. Your personal representative is responsible for gathering your assets after your death, administering your estate, opening a probate if necessary, distributing property to your beneficiaries, completing your last tax return and paying taxes and other debts of your estate from your probate assets.
Guardian: If you have minor children (under the age of 18), your will names a guardian for your minor children. A guardian is responsible for raising and caring for your minor children. A guardian typically has the same powers and responsibilities as a parent regarding the minor children’s support, care and education. A guardian may also consent to and make decisions regarding the minor children’s medical care. If no conservator has been appointed, a guardian will also manage the minor children’s financial affairs, and any assets or property belonging to the minor children. Many people chose the same person to be both guardian and conservator.
Conservator: Your will also names a conservator for your minor children. A conservator is responsible for managing the minor children’s financial affairs. This includes collecting and managing the assets belonging to the minor children, and using the assets to pay for the minor children’s support, care and education.
Despite the important functions a will serves, only 35% of American adults have wills. So what happens if you’re one of the 65% of Americans who don’t have a will?
What Happens When You Don't Have A Will?
If you die without a will – which is called dying “intestate” – you will have no say over who gets your assets or manages your estate. Instead, your property will pass via the state's laws for intestate succession. You will have no part in deciding who takes care of your minor children. And, you will have left your family and other heirs the expensive and time consuming job of sorting out who should get what.
Those close to rock and roll legend Jimi Hendrix learned first hand the nightmare that can happen when somebody fails to leave a will. After Hendrix died in 1970, the battle over his estimated $80 million estate took over 30 years to resolve and has spawned numerous lawsuits. Why? Hendrix failed to ever make a will. Hendrix fathered two children out of wedlock. However, when Hendrix’ father, Al Hendrix, took over the estate, Al denied the children any claims on the estate and instead became the sole heir. Things got even more complicated when Al died. After Al’s death, Jimi’s brother and sister got into a nasty legal fight, each spending millions of dollars to control Jimi’s estate. The end result is that today somebody that Jimi barely knew is now controlling his legacy.
What a Last Will & Testament Can Do For You
So how do you protect your loved ones from having to endure the stress and heartache of having to sort out your estate? Make a will! A will can give you peace of mind knowing that your final wishes will be followed. And, when your wishes are well laid out and documented with a will, you decide how your property is distributed – not the state's laws of intestate succession. Further, YOU, not a court, will pick who oversees and manages your estate. When you pick your personal representative, you will have the comfort of knowing that your estate will be administered by someone you know and trust. And, when YOU pick the guardian and/or conservator for your minor children, you’ll know that your children are in good hands getting the best possible care. In addition, with a will that clearly expresses your wishes, you can reduce the potential for people to disagree over who gets what.
Before making a will, you should consider the following situations:
1. Do you own real or personal property that you want to give to specific people? If so, you should decide who you want to give what to. Consider a Personal Property Memorandum for specific gifts of tangible personal property.
2. Do you have minor children? If so, who do you want to care for them in the event of your death?
3. If you have minor children, do you want to appoint someone other than the guardian to manage the children’s financial affairs? If so, who should that be?
4. Do you have children from another marriage? If so, do you want to designate a portion of your property to go to them?
5. You may have property that you don't list in your Last Will & Testament. Who do you want that property to go to?
6. Do you support certain charities? If so, do you want to leave them a portion of your property?
7. Do you have specific wishes on how you’d like to be buried? If so, you should specify them in your will.
The benefits to making a will are clear. You want to protect your family and make sure your final wishes are followed. You want to save your family from a potentially long and costly battle in the probate court. You want to make sure your children are well cared for. We can do that for you.