Here’s a topic no one wants to talk about – death. We don’t want to think about it, the realities of it, the when or how, but it is a reality that every single one of us is faced with. While there’s not much we can do about it, we can make it easier on our loved ones when the time comes by having a Will. According to a 2015 Rocket Lawyer estate-planning survey by Harris Poll, 64% of Americans don’t have a Will. A shockingly high number when you think about all the protections a Will provides.
A Will is a legally-binding document that allows you to determine how your belongings will be handled upon your death. A Will has the power to dictate how everything you own, down to the last penny, will be distributed. You want to make sure your great niece gets that special brooch she’s had her eye on – just write it into the Will. You want to make sure that terrible cousin doesn’t get her hands on anything – this is the way to control that. A Will allows you to leave a gift to anyone you want, including extended relatives, friends, and charitable organizations. Having a Will ensures that your wishes are followed in your absence.
Having a Will prevents Intestate Succession. Meaning, state law determines what happens to everything a person owns when they pass away without a written Will – according to what are called the state’s “intestate succession laws,” which tell your heirs who will inherit your estate and in what proportion – no matter what you want. That’s right – the deceased and her family members have absolutely no say on what happens at this point. Each state has laws about how the property will be divided and to whom it goes, but if a person has no living relatives, the state will not permit distributions to a friend, charity, or any legally non-related person; instead, all assets end up going to the state.
A Will can do more than just list beneficiaries for your assets. Other benefits of having a Will include:
- Naming an Executor to take care of your estate. An Executor makes sure all your affairs are in order, all the bills are paid, and your wishes are properly followed. Writing a Will allows you to give this control to someone you believe to be honest and trustworthy;
- Naming Guardians for your children and their property. A Will allows you to make an informed, thought-out decision regarding who should take care of your minor children in the event that you cannot. Absent a will, it is in the court’s discretion to choose a family member, or a state-appointed guardian to raise your family;
- Creating Trusts for your children or other young beneficiaries to keep their assets safe and secure. A Will allows you to leave money for your minor children or relatives to be held in Trust until they reach a certain age or life-event. This gives you the peace of mind that they will have the necessary assets without the fear that they may be irresponsible with it if received at the wrong time; and,
- Reduces Family Conflict – Saves Your Heir Legal Fees
Not only is a Will beneficial for all the above listed reasons, but it can also reduce family conflict. A death in the family is always hard and emotions tend to run high; having a Will takes the guess work out of “what she would have wanted” when dealing with the funeral and the division of property. In a world where blended families have become the new norm, Wills can help relieve some of the sting. Plus, if written properly, Wills can prevent costly legal battles, making sure that heirs, not lawyers, get your assets.
However, in order to have a Will that can hold up in Court, it must meet the legal requirements:
- The “Testator” (the one who the Will is for) must be at least 18 years old,
- The Testator must have the proper “legal capacity” (be of sound mind),
- The Testator must sign the Will (there are certain exceptions of the Testator cannot sign the document himself), and
- It must be in writing.
There is no requirement in Pennsylvania for a signed Will to have witnesses; like in many other states, the presence of witnesses can help alleviate any potential issues that may occur down the road when the Will is probated. And that can help avoid costly court battles in case misunderstandings arise.
It is important to have a Will and review it every few years to ensure that it is up to date and still properly reflects your wishes. You want your will to properly reflect any changes in family, assets, and location. A relative passes away, a new child is born, a new home is bought, whatever the scenario is, a proper review of your will every few years will ensure an up-to-date thorough Will.
While some law offices may charge for each update to a Will, our Office only requires you to pay once. A one-time fee for drafting your Will provides you with a lifetime of updates as you see fit. We will work with you to ensure that every single one of your wishes is properly reflected and that your beloved ones are taken care of. If at any time, and as many times, you would like to update your Will, we are happy to make the necessary changes at no additional cost.
Wills and Estate plans must meet specific state laws. As Brian Peston wrote on The Money Guy Show: “For this reason, work with a legal expert in your area – don’t try to skimp on costs and cut corners by using a fill-in-the-blank form found online. Any errors could result in it being conducted in court. Get it done and reviewed by a professional, with witnesses and all.”
The need for a Will is not an easy topic to think about and discuss, it is important to understand why you need a Will – this document will protect you and your loved ones and the assets you’ve worked so hard to acquire. Having a Will is the only way to ensure that your property is dealt with your way.