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Why You Need a Last Will and Testament

Estate Planners | Monday, November 29th, 2010

No one likes to think about dying, but the truth is that none of us will live forever.  If you have been putting off making out a last will and testament, there is no time like now, when you’re young and healthy, to do just that.  Wills are not just for the elderly or the super-rich.  If you die before making a will, your assets will be distributed according to the law, not according to your wishes. This can mean that your spouse receives less than they deserve, or that your assets and money will go to family members who don’t even need it.  There are many good reasons that you should make a will, but the most obvious one is that you can be in control of how your assets are distributed, and who gets what.

While no one likes to consider dying, it is important to think about what would happen to your assets should you pass away.  When an individual dies intestate, which means lacking a will, the person’s assets are distributed in accordance with the intestate laws set out by the laws in the state where they live.  Each state has its own laws, although many are similar.  For example, in some states, the surviving spouse of someone who dies intestate will receive all of the assets.  In other states, the spouse may be given one-third or one-half of the estate and the children will divide the rest equally.  In some states, the spouse and children get equal portions of the estate.  Dying intestate can leave behind a slew of complications for your survivors.

For example, if you live in a state where your surviving spouse and children divide your estate equally, and your children are still young, the surviving spouse will have to account for each child’s share of the estate separately until the child reaches the age of majority (usually eighteen) in your state.  Or your surviving spouse may be left with too little to properly care for your children after your death (or at very least, have to cut through mounds of red tape to do so).  If you are unmarried, or living in a civil union that is not recognized under the law in your state, your will can allow you to protect and provide for your loved ones after you are gone.

Other reasons to make sure that you have a last will and testament and that it is up-to-date with your wishes include:

  • You can make your wishes regarding custody and guardianship of your minor children known.
  • You can ease your family’s burden.  If you don’t have a will, you are placing an unnecessary burden on those you love. When you die, they will be responsible for handling your personal affairs.
  • You can make decisions now, while you are in the right state of mind to do so.  Many people put off making a will until it is too late.  While we all want to live forever, unexpected death or even mental incapacity can occur at any time, leaving you with no chance to plan your affairs or make your last wishes known.
  • You are protecting your family.  Your last will and testament gives you the peace of mind that your loved ones are properly provided for.  Children with special needs or handicaps may need to be given a greater portion of your estate. Your will can be written to accommodate these circumstances.
  • You can reduce dissension among surviving loved ones.  With a thoughtfully written will, the risk of your loved ones becoming bitter or angry at one another is reduced.
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