A Will - Why You Should Have One

A will provides the heirs of your estate with instruction in how to distribute the assets of your estate; sounds pretty dry and uninteresting. Unfortunately for many, it is only after a person dies that the will, or lack thereof, becomes interesting. By then, it's too late.

Most people know they should have a will, but they tend to put it off, especially if they are young. They may have been to very few funerals and not known many people who have died. They think wills and estate planning are for the future and they have plenty of time before they need to consider such things.

Estate planning helps people anticipate and manage the legal and practical aspects of problems ranging from the inevitable to the unexpected: death in the family, incapacity, disability, long-term living assistance, business succession or care of minor children. Proper estate planning ensures you have a plan in place if something unexpected happens.

Stranger Than Fiction

Many people "never get around to it." Even those who should know better. Alwin Ernst, one of the founding partners of the national accounting firm of Ernst & Young, died without a will and an estate plan. His estate totaled $12,600,000 at his death, but due to the lack of planning, his estate paid $7,100,000 in tax.

What if I'm not Worth Millions?

You may think because you don't have an estate worth millions that you don't need a will or estate planning. You may think that the guidelines of the intestate succession statutes distribute assets in the same way you would, so there is no need for a will. Maybe, maybe not.

If you have children or if you have specific interests, such as charities, then you need a will. A will can indicate who would become the guardian of your children, and detail the charity you wish to benefit with a gift.

Who Gets What?

Another important, but little discussed, function of a will is the distribution of what is known as "personal property." Personal property is all the stuff that isn't cash, securities, bank accounts or real estate. Your furniture, china, jewelry, guns, tools, clothing, photographs, paintings and anything else tangible that belongs to you would be considered personal property.

While you are living, you may have told one of your children they can have a favorite aunt's china. Maybe a few years later, you tell another one of your children, they can have the same china. You forget about both conversations. They don't.

These scenarios are not infrequent, and cause a great deal of unnecessary strife in families. A will permits a person to provide detailed instructions for the distribution of such personal property. Children may be unhappy, but at least they can't argue it wasn't what mom or dad wanted.

Even if you have what you believe to be a simple estate, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney. They can review your situation and provide knowledgeable advice, allowing you to make informed decisions on the type of estate planning instruments you need.