A will avoids costs and complications for your heirs when you die. Besides providing instructions about gifts of your property – like your home, car, investments, and jewelry – your will can provide instructions for payment of your debts, selection of an executor for your estate, and appointment of a guardian for your children. Without a will, your property will be distributed according to state law and a court may select an administrator for your estate and a guardian for your minor children. Your lawyer can help you prepare a valid will that minimizes taxes and reduces the time and expense of handling your estate.
You should have a will if you own property – a home, car, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement benefits, jewelry, clothing, household goods, and so on. A will lets you distribute your property as you want with a minimum of costs and taxes. It is an opportunity to select an executor for your estate. a guardian for your children, establish trusts and dispense with costly bonds. If you don’t have a will, ask your lawyer about drafting one without delay.
Why Have a Will
If you don’t make a will, you will have given up your right to decide who inherits your property. Your property will be distributed according to state law, which might be quite different from what you would have wished. For example, if you are married with minor children, in some states your property will be divided between your spouse and children, even though you might prefer to set aside some property for the care of your parents. In most states, your property will be transferred to the state if you die without a will and are not survived by relatives, even though you would have preferred to leave it to a friend or charitable organization. And without a will, you can’t disinherit heirs.
If you leave no will, you will lose the opportunity to select a guardian for any minor children and an executor for your estate. Court-appointed administrators and guardians may not be the family member or friend you would have chosen to handle your affairs.
Dying without a will can be costly and may complicate the transfer of your property to your heirs. For example, the estate may have to pay bond premiums if there is no will stating that you don’t require executors and guardians to post bond. In addition, estate administration proceedings without a will may delay the transfer of your property to your heirs.
Your lawyer can help you draft your will and explain the tax consequences. Your lawyer can also help you comply with the detailed requirements for a valid will, see that your property is distributed as you wish, and reduce estate taxes and probate costs. The legal fees are usually well spent and often less than the added costs and taxes that would result from dying without a will.
Making Changes to your Will
You may need to change your will if you move to a new state, marry, divorce, have a child, acquire substantial property or suffer the loss of a loved one.
Tax law changes may also require a will update. Read your will at least once a year to consider changes. You can make changes by writing a new will or by preparing an amendment to your existing will called a codicil.
A new will is best if there are many changes. A codicil may be appropriate for a small change, but it must be made with the same formalities as a new will – crossing out or writing inserts onto your will might invalidate it.
Appointing an Executor
You should appoint an executor in your will. An executor locates heirs, lists property, pays debts, and distributes property to your heirs. A relative or friend can serve as your executor, but you should consider using a professional executor (such as a bank or trust company) if you have a large or complicated estate.
An executor should be someone who is familiar with managing the property, financial matters, and record-keeping. Before naming an executor, confirm that the person is willing to serve. Your lawyer can help you select the best executor. As noted before, your will can state that the executor is not required to furnish a bond, thus saving your estate this expense.
Appointing a Guardian
If you have children under 18, you should appoint a guardian in your will. Otherwise, if you and your spouse die at the same time without such appointment, a court will select a guardian to care for your children and manage their inheritance until they become adults.
Your will can create a trust to control the property transferred to your children. A trust is useful if you are concerned that the children may lack the maturity to handle their inheritance after age 18.
Your lawyer can help you to select a guardian and create a trust in your will that protects your children and your wishes. Request a free consultation today.