Leaving A Will
A will is the most basic part of an estate plan. A will documents your wishes for distribution of your assets when you die. If you do just one bit of estate planning, it should be to create a will. Some people put off writing a will because they don’t want to think about death, but, in fact, a will is also for the living. It lets your heirs know that you cared enough to make plans to protect them. Keep in mind that laws of inheritance can vary by state, and if no one knows what you would have wanted, the probate court will adhere to the laws of your state.
As the parent of minor children, you need a will to protect them after you’re gone. Your will specifies who should have guardianship of the children, as well as who will act as trustee to manage their money until they become of age. The guardian and the trustee may or may not be the same person. You’ll need to decide what’s in the children’s best interest. Naming a guardian/trustee for minor children is especially important for one-parent families or unmarried parents living together. If you don’t do this, the probate court will do it for you, and their choice might not be what you would want.
If you’re married, you need a will to document what you’re leaving to your spouse. Contrary to popular wisdom, a wife does not necessarily inherit all of her husband’s assets if he dies intestate (without a will), and vice versa. Your surviving spouse will be entitled to a portion of your estate, as will your children (minors and adults), and other relatives (parents and siblings) will have a claim.
Single people also need a will. When a single person dies intestate, the court will distribute your property to your nearest relatives (parents, siblings, or other kin by blood or marriage); if none are found, the state will take your property. If you’re in a committed relationship, your partner is not your legal heir unless you make that clear in your will.
Once you’ve created a will, be sure to review it occasionally at least every five years and especially when major events change your life. In many cases you can simply add a codicil (a supplement) to your existing will to include changes without having to create a completely new will. Some examples of when to review or update your will include:
- Adding another child since the last will
- Acquiring/starting a business
- Death of your spouse
Helpful Details for Leaving a Will:
Learn if Setting Up a Trust should be part of your estate planning.
WSLife.com representatives can help explain the importance of a will and how your life insurance and other investments play into your estate-planning decisions.
Western & Southern Life does not provide tax or legal advice. Please contact your tax or legal advisor regarding your situation.