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When someone dies without a will, it is said that he or she died intestate. This means that the state -- not the person who died -- gets to determine who will inherit his or her assets. For most people, the idea of having the state split up what people have worked all their lives for is simply not acceptable.
Each state has its own intestacy laws; however, if you are married and have children, your assets will be split between your spouse and children. If you are single, the state will determine who will inherit your estate.
Every person who is of majority age needs a will. While many people feel that a will is just not needed when they don't have a lot of assets, children or when they are still young, the truth is that a will helps your loved ones. Not only will a last will and testament help your relatives receive your personal property according to your wishes, a will can make the probate process faster and less expensive.
Those with children need a will that spells out who is to have guardianship of the children in the event of your death. This is an important decision, and it is best to discuss your decision with the person who will care for your children if you pass away. In addition, a will can be used to set up a trust for your children to help with the expenses of their care or for future use. While this is not a pleasant situation for anyone to spending time considering, naming a guardian can prevent the state from putting the children in foster care until a guardian can be named -- and it could be a relative you don't approve of.
There are other reasons why you should have a will. Besides making things easier on your family after you are gone, a will can also help you minimize estate taxes. Depending on which state you live in, estate taxes may be due after your death and could decrease the value of what your heirs and beneficiaries will receive.
By having a will, you can also ensure that some family members will not inherit anything from you. If you die without a will, the state may decide that your assets will go to someone whom you did not intend. A good example is a will that leaves everything to your spouse. Unfortunately, since the will was completed, you have divorced. Your ex-spouse could end up with your assets.
A will also allows you to make donations and gifts to ensure your legacy lives on after your death. You can leave gifts to heirs and beneficiaries and if the amount of the gift is below the current estate tax threshold, there will be no taxes due.
Finally, a will allows you to name who will handle your estate. An executor will make sure your affairs are in order, all bills have been paid, bank accounts and credit cards cancelled, and that your assets are distributed as you intended. The executor you choose should be someone you trust, who is organized and honest. It does not have to be a family member.
Because there is a lot to consider when it comes to putting your final wishes down on paper, it is important to ensure that everything is covered. An experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable advice and guidance when it comes to helping you complete a valid will.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified wills lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local wills attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.