“I really need to get a Will, but I just don’t have the time.” This is the excuse I hear most often when estate planning is brought up. People know they need a will, but often don’t make the time to have one drafted. Fortunately for many individuals, setting up a Will is a very quick and simple process. By drafting a Will, you are in control of who you are leaving your assets to. Without a Will, what you often end up leaving behind is chaos, confusion and the potential to have your assets end up in the wrong hands.
John needed a will
For example, take this case I worked on a few years back. “John” passed away unexpectedly; never having made the time to prepare a will. John’s wife had predeceased him and they had no children. The only family members he left behind were his sister “Sally” and his brother “Larry.” In addition, John’s parents had also predeceased him. Under the laws of intestacy (more on that below), Sally and Larry are the next of kin and the rightful heirs to John’s estate. The only problem here was that John’s brother Larry had been estranged for over 30 years. No one had seen or heard from him in quite some time. Sally, on the other hand, was very close to John and the two were as thick as thieves. In fact, Sally had devoted the past 3 years to caring for John and making sure he wasn’t alone. Because John never prepared a will, Sally was only entitled to ½ of John’s estate that was valued at $350,000. Long lost Larry was set to get $175,000.00 of John’s estate and he didn’t even know John had passed away until he got the notice from the Probate Court. Sally knew that the last thing John would have wanted was for Larry to benefit from his death. Both parties spent a great deal of money on legal fees defending their position.
What makes this story worse, is that it all could have been avoided if John had taken the time to have a Will drafted. I wish I could say that this story is one that we see every so often, however, it’s more common than you would think. Not only can the lack of a will result in your assets ending up in the wrong hands, but it also can cause emotional distress when a family member feels that his/her loved one’s wishes aren’t being honored.
If you pass away without having executed a will, there are laws that the Probate Court must follow when distributing your assets. These laws are in place to make it easier on the court, not you or your family. Here are a few things you should know about Intestate Inheritance Laws:
- If you pass away leaving a spouse AND parents (but no children), then your spouse gets the first $100,000 plus three-quarters of the remainder of the entirety of your estate and your parents get one-quarter.
- If you pass away leaving a spouse AND child(ren) (all of whom have the same father and mother), then your spouse gets the first $100,000 plus one half of the remainder of the estate and your child(ren) gets the other half of the remainder of the estate.
- If you pass away leaving a spouse AND child(ren) (one or more who is not your surviving spouse’s biological child) then your spouse gets one half of the entirety of your estate and your child(ren) split the other half.
- If you pass away and do NOT leave behind a spouse, children or parents, then your estate will be distributed equally to your next of kin – meaning siblings or nieces or nephews, etc.
If what I’ve outlined above doesn’t sound like what you’d like to see happen to your assets once you pass, then we’d love to help you regain control of your estate.