I often hear from single folks, couples without children, and people will few assets that “they don’t need a will.” Heck, one person in my family who is very closely related to me insists that she doesn’t need a will.
These people are all wrong.
If you own anything, you need a will. If you own more than just an X-Box, you definitely need a will. If you have a savings account or own a car or have any assets at all, you need a will. A house or any other assets – will required. And if you have children, you’re just being irresponsible if you don’t have a will.
Even people who know that they need a will often fail to take the steps to create a will: research shows that 57% of people don’t have a will. Luckily for military families, they have access to free and competent will writing assistance at their base legal office. If you don’t have a will, make an appointment with legal and get a will this week.
Here are the four major reasons that you need a will:
Probate is the process by which the legal status of an estate is determined. Every state has their own laws, and every estate must go through some form of probate. If the deceased had a will, the probate court’s job is relatively easy: they verify that the will is valid, and ensure that the estate is distributed according to the terms of the will.
If the deceased does not have a will and dies “intestate”, then the probate court has to appoint a personal representative and distribute the estate based upon state laws. This process is more complicated and can be expensive. The selection of personal representative is often not a person you would choose, and they’re responsible for making sure that your estate is settled properly, legally and fairly.
Every state has their own laws about what happens if you die without a will. Many states have laws that do not allocated the entire estate to the surviving spouse. For example, Pennsylvania gives the first $30,000 to the spouse, plus half of the rest of the estate. In many states, there is a division of property between the spouse and parents. Honestly, the intestate laws are often crazy – you really don’t want these laws deciding where your stuff and money go.
If you die without a will, you have given up the opportunity to designate the people who will benefit from your estate, and who will not benefit from your estate. This avoids wonky state laws and sticky family situations.
Children are actually the number one reason that you want to have a will. First, because you designate their desired guardians in your will. Second, because you designate how the financial assets of estate will be used to care for your children. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: if you have children, go get a will today or tomorrow or as soon as physically possible. Don’t delay.