It can be hard for everyone — both parents and children — to talk about wills, especially now during COVID-19 when stress and anxiety is so high. But it’s important to have this conversation. An estate attorney can walk you through the process of establishing a will, trust and other important estate documents.
What Happens When You Don’t Have a Will?: An Overview
If you’re a parent, the most important purpose of a will is that it enables you to designate a personal guardian for your children. Without a will, it’s up to a judge to appoint their guardian. The judge must always act in the best interests of the children and will do their best to learn about your wishes before making a decision — but when the wellbeing of your children is at stake, it’s worth saving them the guesswork.
When it comes to your assets, if you die without a will in place, they will be subject to your state’s laws of intestacy, which serve as default rules of distribution after death. Typically, these laws distribute property to your spouse and/or your blood relatives. While that’s all well and good for some, there’s a decent chance you won’t agree with some of the distributions your state directs. If you wish to provide some of your assets to an old friend, for example, or donate to charity, these distributions cannot be made without a will in place.
What’s more, if you have no surviving spouse or children, the intestacy laws will look to your next of kin to distribute property. If your only remaining family members are distant relatives, the state will view them as next in line to inherit your assets … and most people don’t typically envision their hard-earned savings going to their second cousin twice removed.
The Financial and Emotional Costs of Not Having a Will
Not having a will may actually be more expensive in the long run. Without a clear indication of your wishes, delays and legal costs are likely to add up as your estate makes its way through the legal system. Unfortunately, not having a will also opens the door to potential family disputes, further complicating the process and adding another emotional layer to what is likely already a difficult time for your family.
You Can Always Change Your Mind
If you’re not familiar with the legal or financial world, the process of establishing a will can seem intimidating. Creating a will can also be daunting if you’re unsure of what kind of legacy you want to leave.
If you’re feeling indecisive, rest assured that your will isn’t set in stone until your death. You can always change your mind and create a new will in the future, which can supersede the old one. One way to get past paralysis in making such big decisions is to just think about what you want to happen in the next 5 years. That can make it less daunting for parents and make it easier for them to move forward.
If you have any questions about creating a will or updating your estate plan, reach out to our team today.