Do You Need a Will?
By Erica Feldhake, Associate Attorney | Dent Coulson Elder Law, LLC
Do you need a will? For a lot of very important reasons, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
After you pass, your family will have a lot of emotions to process. As they process these emotions, they may be more likely to disagree with each other. Having guidance from you after you are gone will make the process easier for family members as they go through the grieving process. When you die without a will, you leave a lot of unanswered questions for people who are likely already struggling to get through their days as they grieve your loss. When you take the time to answer these questions, it greatly reduces the stress of family and friends after you are gone.
Just as importantly, having a will in place can prevent foreseeable or even unforeseeable disagreements between or among your loved ones. Some of the worst family fights can be among well-intentioned people who each steadfastly believe that they are the one who knows what the person who died “would have wanted.” In a worst case situation, that sort of dispute can even tear a family apart.
When you pass without a will, it can leave a lot of unanswered questions. Who should be in charge of distributing your property and paying your bills when you are gone? If you have minor children, who should raise them after you are gone? What should happen to your house? What should happen to your land? What should happen to your pets? Should the son or daughter that you have not heard from in five years get the same rights to your property as the daughter or son that you speak to everyday? If one of your children has died before you, should that one’s share go down the family tree to their children, or just be divided among your other living children? What if you don’t have any surviving children – who would inherit then?
A will allows you to answer all of these questions and more. Wills allow you to make specific gifts or donations, and to decide who should get what shares of what’s left. A will also allows you to decide who will be in charge of making sure that your wishes are followed (the executor of your will). When you do not have a will which puts a decisionmaker in place, a judge will decide who that will be, and will often look for volunteers within your family. The person who volunteers may just be the last person you would want overseeing the disbursement of your property.
Likewise, if you don’t decide how your property should be distributed, then the state will do it for you, following a set of guidelines that might be a poor match for what you would have wanted. For example, if you’re married and would intend to leave everything to each other when the first spouse died, that’s not going to be the result under the state’s default rules. If any of the beneficiaries have not attained age 18, a guardianship would have to be put in place for them to receive their shares, a result you can avoid through the right language in your will. Perhaps worst of all, if you have minor children, relatives on each parent’s side of the family may fight over who should raise them, with a judge deciding and the kids stuck in the middle of all of that uncertainty.
A will is a great investment in your family’s future after you die. It’s a wonderful way for you to show them that you love them and care about what their futures will look like after you die. When’s the best time to put a will in place? Now!
At Dent Coulson Elder Law, we pride ourselves on our ability to prepare wills that are personalized to best meet our clients’ individual needs, and give them the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have planned well for their future. And, as we like to say, our wills come with a 100% guarantee: we can 100% guarantee that your will won’t go to waste – sooner or later (hopefully much later), it will do its very helpful and important job.