Roughly 60 percent of Americans have not created a will. That’s somewhat understandable. For many of us, especially those who consider themselves to be young or middle aged, the task of drafting a will never seems to make it to the top of the “Things We Need to Do Today” list. But should it?
Dying without a will certainly won’t impact you very much, but it could have major ramifications on those you love, especially if you have minor children. Creating a will doesn’t have to take a long time, but it does have to be done properly. In almost all cases, it makes sense to hire an experienced attorney to assist you in finalizing a will.
What happens to my assets if I die without a will?
Typically, your estate will be entered into the probate process, where the court will name a person (often a surviving spouse) who will oversee distribution of your assets. However, if there are ex-spouses, parents, adult children or extended family members who want your money or possessions, prepare for some fireworks! If no family members are available, the court will name a public trustee (a.k.a. total stranger) to distribute your assets.
Moreover, the probate process can be expensive (5-10 percent of your estate) and can take a long time to be completed (often more than a year).
What is the order of people who will receive my assets when no will is available?
- Your spouse
- Your children, if alive. If they are not alive, your grandchildren.
- Your parents
- Your siblings, if alive. Otherwise, your nieces and nephews.
- Children of a deceased spouse
- Relatives of a deceased spouse
- The state in which you are a legal resident
Please note: A domestic partner has few, if any, legal rights to claim any of your belongings if there is no will.
What makes a will valid?
State laws vary, but most states require your signature, along with the signature of two other witnesses who must see you sign the document.
What should be included in a will?
- Your name, address, date and signature.
- Identifies your “executor,” the person you want to oversee distributing your assets.
- Language clearly stating how much authority you want to give the executor. Is he/she allowed to pay your debts and any funeral expenses, income taxes, etc.?
- Naming a guardian for your minor children, especially if your spouse is not available.