A will is a formal legal document detailing the disbursement of your assets. It is crucial to the success of an estate plan that your will be properly in accordance with state law. The laws governing the drawing up of wills vary considerably from state to state.
For example, holographic wills (those written in a person`s own hand) are considered legal in certain states but illegal in others. States such as California, have recognized the average person`s need for simplified universal wills, which are prepared forms written by the legislature that can be used in lieu of a formal will. In complicated estate cases do-it-yourself wills fail to satisfactory substitute for a formal will.
What if I Die without a Will?
If you die without a will, you forfeit the right to direct the dealings of your estate. This will likely result in needless legal disputes, damage to personal relationships, and sometimes, financial tragedy. A will is an opportunity for you to designate your own executor, guardians for minor children, and other fiduciaries, rather than relying on the probate court to appoint them for you. Trustees for minor children or other beneficiaries of your estate can be designated in a will, and their powers can be tailored to the anticipated needs of those beneficiaries.
Even if you have neither a spouse nor children a will is the best means of fulfilling your wishes as relating to your estate. Courts are unlikely to award portions of an estate to non-relatives or charities when blood relations (no matter how distant) can be found.
This point is critical people who were adopted into a family unrelated to their natural family; in such a case, dying without a will (intestate) can result in needlessly complex legal work and expenses to clarify disputes between adopted and blood relations.
A will is also critical if you have made personal and emotional commitments to another person without being married and would like them to receive some part of your estate.
If I Have a Trust, Do I Still Need a Will?
Even those who have shifted the majority of their assets into trusts designed to bypass the probate process, or who use joint ownership, should draw up a will. Most property owners inevitably leave behind an estate simply because the estate planning tools are not designed to shift all assets away from the probate process. Properties and assets will still be held in the sole control of their owner for convenience and management reasons.
Plus, there is no guarantee that the designated heir(s) will survive, so with a will you can designate secondary beneficiaries. Estate planning is more than just tax planning, it is planning for the future of your heirs and beneficiaries.