Why do I need a will? Every state has different rules for who inherits your assets if you pass away without a will (known as “intestacy”). However, most states follow rules similar to this:
- If your spouse survives you and you have no children, he or she inherits everything;
- If you’re survived by your spouse and at least one child, your spouse gets a portion of your assets, and your child(ren) gets the rest;
- If your children are minors, their assets are held for them until they turn a particular age (usually 18 or 21), then they control their inheritance, no matter how large; and
- If you’re survived by children but no spouse, your children inherit everything equally.
Your will is the only document a probate court will recognize in which you can name guardians for your minor children. If you die without a will, your family must decide who will care for your children, or a court will decide.
J.P Morgan Wealth Management’s article, “Estate planning: Why everyone should have a will,” says that if you have a will, you will have designed an executor or personal representative. This is the person in charge of carrying out your instructions. If you die without a will, your heirs can go to court to be put in charge of your estate. In either event, unless you’ve structured your assets so they don’t go through probate, your heirs will have to go to court; the court will oversee the process.
You may be able to minimize or avoid probate by, for example, owning everything jointly with rights of survivorship, having beneficiaries designated to receive your assets, or putting everything in a revocable trust.
You should ask an experienced estate planning attorney about your state’s probate process to understand how important it might be for you to avoid court — and the only way to avoid court is to have an estate plan.
Unfortunately, any of us can die at any moment, young or old, in good or bad health.
Reference: J.P Morgan Wealth Management (Jan. 27, 2023) “Estate planning: Why everyone should have a will”