If you’re like the majority of Americans, you have not put together a last will and testament. Let’s face it, thinking about what will happen to your money and property after your death is not a pleasant way to spend your time. However, it’s irresponsible to leave these decisions up to chance. Here are some reasons why you should make sure that your wishes are spelled out in a will.
Dying intestate can leave your minor children vulnerable. My husband and I were shocked to find out that if something were to happen to us, the state of Indiana would decide the best situation for our 8 month-old son. Within our family, we have already decided and asked a family member to be his guardian should the worst happen, but without putting it down in writing, the state has no way of knowing what we want—and what is best for him. If you have children under 18, it’s absolutely imperative that you write a will and name a guardian, just in case.
Without a will, your money and property will be split up. While these decisions are different from state to state, generally you can expect the following money and property breakdowns:
For married individuals with children: In most states, the surviving spouse receives 1/3 to 1/2 of the estate with the rest going to the children. If you want either your spouse or children to receive more than that, you’re out of luck without a will.
For married individuals without children: In this case, most states will award the surviving spouse 1/3 to 1/2 of the estate, with the rest going to the parents and/or siblings of the deceased. It doesn’t matter if you are estranged from your family, in the midst of a divorce, or from an enormous family.
For single individuals with children: Generally the state will award the entire estate to the children in this case. My family has experience with this aspect of intestacy, as an aunt who passed away without a will was not able to specify that some of her estate go to the care of her disabled sister, leaving the family in a financial bind.
For single individuals without children: The state will generally award the estate to your parents or siblings. It doesn’t matter if you have been living with your partner for years, according to the state your nuclear family gets your money and property.
Every family has different needs when it comes to finances, and only you can know what will be best for your situation. Don’t let a “one-size-fits-all” state approach to estates destroy what you have built and planned for with your family. Make sure you protect yourself and your family with a will. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
So, do you have a will yet? And if not, have you booked your appointment to see an estate planner yet?
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