If you die without a valid will, your property will be distributed according to state law. This may or may not be the distribution that you would choose for yourself. For example, in the state of Georgia, if you died without a will (also known as dying “intestate”) your estate would be split between your surviving spouse and your children. If your spouse is the natural parent of your children, it makes much more sense for you to leave everything to your spouse in a will, knowing that your spouse will care for your children.
If you are not married and have no descendants, in most states your property would then go to your parents. If they aren’t living to your siblings….etc. Realize that your favorite charity or best friend is never going to be part of the state’s distribution order. If you want to leave anything to charity, nonrelatives, or your alma mater when you die, you have to do that through a valid will.
One of the most important reasons to create a will is to name a guardian for your children. If something should happen to you and your spouse, who would be responsible for raising your children? Take some time to consider the individuals that you might select as guardian. Do you have similar values and parenting styles? Is the person is good enough health to be running after little ones? If you can’t be there to raise your children, who do you trust to step in?
While it is not a pleasant possibility to think about, young parents do occasionally die long before their time. And if you don’t choose a guardian, the probate judge is going to have to name someone to be the guardian – and it may not be the person(s) that you would have chosen.
The executor is the person who will take care of things after you are gone. They will pay the funeral bills, sell or transfer title to your home and cars and report back to the Probate Court. This is an important position and it can take a lot of time and effort. When you write your will you will have the opportunity to select who will have this important role. It is often a family member (but does not have to be). However, the person that you select does need to be diligent and organized. It is also advisable that you talk with the person you have selected and make sure that it is a job they are willing to take on.
So much of the benefit from creating a will is for your family. Having your last wishes spelled out can make everything – from the funeral arrangements to who gets grandmother’s china – go a lot smoother.
We all know that life has a way of surprising us. You discover you’re expecting another child…you move to a new state…you get divorced and remarried… All of these life events can change your estate plan and your will should be updated to reflect your new life situation. Keep your will in a safe place where you can get to it and look over it every few years to see if changes need to be made.
Katherine Sparks is a guest blogger on www.sparkslawpractice.com. She works with clients on a variety of legal issues including estate planning.
– Katherine Sparks
All pictures contained in this blog are copyrighted works used with the permission of Ben Frey Photography.