Well first of all what does a will really do?
A will is a legal document that dictates the distribution of assets when you die. A will sets a plan in motion for your belongings and assets if you pass away. If you die without a will there is no plan only state law.
If you pass away and have a will:
- Your property and assets will be distributed according to your wishes.
If you pass away and don’t have a will:
- State law governs who gets your property and assets—this is called “dying intestate.”
- Property does not also get where or to who it was intended for. Causing confusion and arguments between loved ones who thought they were supposed to get certain property.
- Usually, your spouse and/or children will take priority and inherit your stuff, but that’s not necessarily true.
- If you don’t have a spouse or kids, then it’s more complicated.
- Probating an estate can take a long time resulting in costly legal fees and a lengthy hold up receiving the inheritance.
When do you really need a will?
Arguments can be made that it is always better to have a will, but there are a few specific categories of people who really do need a will.
- Are you married? Yes, you do need a will.
If you are married, then you need a will because your spouse is someone who is so closely tied to you that it’s important for you to put in writing whether she or he gets your assets upon your death.
Traditionally, your spouse would likely inherit your things even if you die without a will, but you shouldn’t leave that up to chance. Additionally, if you want anyone other than your spouse to receive any of your assets, you would need to include that in your will because that isn’t the default.
- Do you have kids? Yes, you do need a will.
Kids are likely to inherit your assets if you die without a will after your spouse, but not 100% of the time. This means that if you want your kids to inherit after your spouse, then you need to put that in writing so there is no room for error or interpretation by the courts. Additionally, if you don’t want one of (or all of) your kids to inherit, then that needs to be in writing.
It is possible you want your kids to inherit from you but it also possible that you do not want your children to inherit from you. It is better to decide before the state decides what the kids receive.
Another reason why a will is important is to plan accordingly for minor children. When you are gone who is going to take care of your children? Who is going to make sure there is a roof over their heads, and make sure they are taken care of? A will allows you to name an executor of your estate and a guardian of your children. The executor is responsible for distributing your assets, and the guardian is responsible for raising your children. Who you name as executor and as guardian is important to how your children inherit and how they are raised.
A will is not permanent in regards to children. For example if you have another child, you will need to update the will in order to include the child.
- Do you have a positive net worth? A will is a good idea.
It is possible that you are single with no children and have a positive net worth. If you die what happens to this? Consider obtaining a living trust which goes into effect right after it’s signed. This allows you to dictate what happens to your assets you worked so hard to get.
If you have assets that need to be distributed when you die, it is almost easier to have a will or a trust.
- Are you elderly or want to help your elderly parents? A will as well as an estate plan is a good idea.
With the cost of assisted living homes and nursing homes rising exponentially every year planning for the future has become a must. An estate plan is not just about passing your wealth to your loved ones, it’s about providing for independence and control as you age. Having a will that records your wishes with your property and assets helps alleviate adding extra stress to family members who may already be struggling to provide care for you.
If you fall into one of these categories or want to be prepared in the unfortunate even of your death make sure you hire an estate attorney to draft it for you. A will can help your family avoid conflict when you die, and it is not something you should draft yourself. Let us know if we can help you plan for your future. Call us today for a free consultation to see what we can do to help you. (617)-847-4200
6 Estate Planning Steps for Families
Based on our experience, we think others should take these six steps to ensure their family knows their wishes and plans when they die or become mentally or physically incapacitated:
1. Organize your emergency information. This is more than a list of doctors and phone numbers. It should include specifics about your digital assets, bank accounts, storage rental, lawyers and financial advisers. Doing so will save your loved ones additional stress during an already stressful time and can be critical for quick decision-making.
2. Draw up a will and maybe trusts, too. Meet with an estate attorney who can give you guidance and create the proper documents. Make sure everything is as clear as possible and easily understood so there will be no questions about what you really meant.
3. Designate a durable power of attorney. This allows the person you designate to make legal decisions if you’re incapacitated. Provide as much detail as possible, including safe deposit boxes and passwords to online accounts. Without power of attorney, the courts or a third-party designated by the courts will wind up making legal decisions.
4. Prepare an advance medical directive. This document will save family members from having to make end-of-life decisions for you.
5. Open frank conversations with your parents about their financial affairs sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until they have an injury, get sick or you notice that they shouldn’t be driving anymore.
6. Tell your grown children your plans. They probably assume you have been smart with your money. Prove them right. Then teach them to put their affairs in order, too.
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Meet Our Attorneys
Thomas F. Williams
Thomas F. Williams graduated from Boston University in 1969 with a degree in government and economics.
with Tom Williams
From Our Law Blog
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