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
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
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.