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   Wills & Estates  


  Untitled Document

What Happens if You Die Without A Will?


If you die intestate (without a will), your state's laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your property by default. These laws vary from state to state, but typically the distribution would be to your spouse and children, or if none, to other family members. A state's plan often reflects the legislature's guess as to how most people would dispose of their estate and builds in protections for certain beneficiaries, particularly minor children. That plan may or may not reflect your actual wishes, and some of the built-in protections may not be necessary in a harmonious family setting. A will allows you to alter the state's default plan to suit your personal preferences.

What a Will Does

A will provides for the distribution of property owned by you at the time of your death in any manner you choose (subject to the forced heirship laws of some states that prevent disinheriting a spouse and, in some cases, children). Your will cannot, however, govern the disposition of properties that pass outside your probate estate (such as certain joint property, life insurance, retirement plans and employee death benefits) unless they are payable to your estate.

Wills can be of various degrees of complexity and can be utilized to achieve a wide range of family and tax objectives. If a will provides for the outright distribution of assets, it is sometimes characterized as a simple will. If the will establishes one or more trusts, it is often called a testamentary trust will. Alternatively, the will may leave probate assets to a preexisting trust, created in your lifetime, in which case it is called a pour over will. In either case, the purpose of the trust arrangement (as opposed to outright distribution) is to ensure continued property management and creditor protection for the surviving family members, to provide for charities, and to minimize taxes. Estate Planning is a complex arena. A quality estate plan will look at your complete financial picture from a cross-disciplinary perspective – not solely a tax, legal, or investment perspective.

Aside from providing for the intended disposition of your property to spouse, children etc., there are a number of other important objectives that may be accomplished in your will, such as:

* You may designate a guardian for your minor child or children if you have survived the other parent.
* You may designate an executor of your estate in your will.
* You may choose to acknowledge or otherwise provide for a child (e.g., stepchild, godchild, etc.) in whom you have an interest, an elderly parent, or other individuals.
* If you are acting as custodian for the assets of a child or grandchild under the Uniform Gift (or Transfers) to Minors Act, you may designate your successor custodian.

 

The law firm of Johnson & Placke can help you undertand the different issues and help you plan for the future of your family and loved ones.







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