ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE - Part 2
I have taken the liberty to identify the top ten reasons to have a Will. Obviously, I believe that having a Will is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Not only does having a Will legally protects your spouse, children and your assets, it can spell out exactly how you would like things handled after you have passed . While everyone’s situation varies, these are my top ten reasons:
You, not the State, decides how your estate would be distributed. A Will is a legally binding document that lets you make the determination as to how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death. You get to rule from the grave! If you die without a Will, there is no guarantee that your intentions will be carried out. Clearly, having a Will helps minimize any family disputes about your estate that may arise, and quite frankly identifies the “who, what, when, and where” of your estate.
You decide who will take care of your minor children. A Will allows you to make an informed decision about who should take care of your minor children at your passing. This assumes that you don’t have a spouse in the picture. For husband and wife, it is critically important for both their Wills to identify an alternative guardianship arrangement for their minor children. Otherwise, absent a Will, the Court will take it upon itself to choose among family members or name a State appointed guardian. Are you comfortable with this? Having a Will allows you to appoint the person you want to raise your children, or better yet to make sure it is not someone that you do not want raising your children!
To avoid a lengthy probate process. Contrary to common belief, all estates must go through the probate process, whether you have a Will or not. However, having a Will speeds up the probate process through the Florida Summary Probate Proceeding ( Florida. Statute 735.201-735.2063) and advises the Court how would you like your estate divided. Probate Court primarily serves the purpose of administering your estate and when you die without a Will (“intestate”) it is the Court who will decide your estate without any input from you. This can also cause long, unnecessarily delays, especially if your heirs dispute the Court’s findings.
You decide who will wind up the affairs of your estate. The Personal Representative that you identified in your Will makes sure that all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, cancelling credit cards, notifying the bank and other business establishments of your passing. Because these representatives play a large role in the administration of your estate, you want to be sure, that someone you believe to be honest, trustworthy, “organized and efficient”. This may or may not be just any family member.
With a Will, you can disinherit individuals who would otherwise stand to inherit. Florida law allows you to disinherit individuals out of your Will. We all have those family members, right? You may want to disinherit an individual who may otherwise inherit part of your estate. If you are without a Will you can’t. Because Wills will specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed, absent a Will, the State may determine that someone who you do not want receiving your property ends up getting it.
Make gifts and donations. The ability to make gifts is a good reason to have a Will because it allows your legacy to live on and reflect your personal values and interests. These could be to a charity, a church, a synagogue, or any specific person or entity you desire. In addition, gifts up to $13,000.00 are excluded from estate tax (if that is an issue who have to deal with), so you are also going to increase the value of your estate for your heirs and beneficiaries to enjoy.
Avoid greater legal challenges. If you die without a Will, a part or all of your estate may pass to someone you did not intended to receive it. For instance, a recent case, involved the estate of a deceased child who was awarded over one million dollars from a wrongful death lawsuit. When the son passed away, the son’s father, who had not been a part of his son’s life for decades, still inherited the entire estate leaving siblings and other relatives out of the picture. Legal challenges such as this can be time consuming and quite frustrating.
Because you can change your mind if your life circumstances change. You can change the terms of the Will any time while you are still alive. Life changes such as getting married, having children, deaths in the family, divorce, buying a business, open a business, inheriting specific gifts from relatives, etc. can create situations where changing your Will is necessary. You can always amend a Will through a document called a Codicil to keep up with your current intentions. No State Probate Court can keep up with such.
Minimize the estate taxes. Another reason to have a Will is because you to minimize your estate taxes. The value that you give away to family members or charity Will reduce the value of the estate when it’s time to pay estate taxes, if you have any that are applicable. Under the current administration this does not affect the majority of people, but we will never know when the Congress is going to change this amount.
Because tomorrow is not promised. Procrastination and avoidance of the topic of one’s death are the most common reasons I hear from people for not having a Will. Unfortunately, often realization that Wills are necessary tools, often comes too late. This can be too late even though you haven’t died yet. If you become incapacitated, due to a stroke, heart attack, injury or other situations, and are no longer deemed “competent”, you may still be alive, but have no ability to direct your affairs. A spouse cannot do this for you. To avoid the added stress on a family member, during what will be obviously an emotional time already, it is necessary to have a safe plan in place. At least a basic estate plan at a minimum is suggested, before it’s too late.
Obviously, there are more than ten reasons to have a Will, but space is limited and I don’t want you to be overwhelmed about the process and put off the process, again?
Because preparing to obtain a Will often raises a number of questions, which lead to other questions, I recommend contacting someone who regularly is involved in estate planning and can help answer your questions and provide information, guidance, and direction. When it comes to estate planning and deciding the things you have to decide, you need advice from a knowledgeable counselor. While there is nothing wrong with the internet or pre-printed forms, one has to inquiry do you really want to trust such critically important decisions to the world wide web or a legal form drafted that “fits all”?
The decision is yours, however the impact of your decision will have meaningful consequences for your family members and heirs. Don’t you want it to be positive outcome as opposed to more heartache and hardship on them? The decision is entirely yours.