Why you need a will...and what happens if you die without one.
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Writing a will isn’t the most pleasant exercise. After all, creating this document requires you to think in detail about your own demise.
Even though it’s uncomfortable to face death, you need a will. This legal document decides what happens to your assets after you die, and who raises your children.
If you need motivation, here’s a good one: If you die without a will, you just might leave behind a legal mess that your loved ones are forced to clean up.
Dying without a will can create some major headaches. Among them:
You won’t decide who raises your children.
A will lets parents designate guardians for their minor children. If you die without a will, that decision is made by a state court. In many cases, the court will defer to your closest living relative.
If you have young children, it’s imperative that you write a will that spells out your wishes about who takes responsibility for them after you’re gone. You also can use your will to designate guardians for your pets.
Your affairs will be tied up in probate.
Probate is the legal process that oversees all estates. If you have a will, the process is straightforward: The court validates your will and lets your executor administer the estate. Without a will, however, the process can get messy.
The legal term for dying without a will is “intestate,” a designation that turns your affairs over to the legal system. The decision about how to distribute your assets is taken over by the court, a process that can take months and can require your family members to appear in court on your behalf.
So at a time when your loved ones are grieving, they’re also making legal appearances. What’s more, probate is costly – fees can add up to as much as 7% of the amount of your estate.
Your tax bill might balloon.
Writing a will is a first step in managing the tax burden that your estate will shoulder. If you die without a will, your heirs will be at the mercy of the tax authorities. By organizing your assets in your will, however, you can strategically reduce the amount of taxes owed by your heirs.
You won’t choose where your money goes.
Your will is an opportunity for you to make your wishes known even after you’re gone. If you have a favorite charity, your will lets you designate it as a recipient of a financial gift. If you want to leave items with sentimental import or financial value to children or grandchildren, your will lets you do that. Without a will, however, those wishes have no legal standing.
In other words, the downsides of dying without a will are many. But these disadvantages can be easily avoided – for many people, writing a will can be done online, without a visit to an attorney. Trust & Will is an online service that simplifies the process.
If your finances are complex enough that you’ll need a higher level of estate planning advice, don’t let that deter you. A more complex estate only magnifies the tax ramifications and probate issues caused by dying intestate.
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