You can’t take it with you. Unless you plan on living forever, there will eventually be a need to divide your property among the relatives and loved ones you leave behind. By having a will, you determine who gets what. Without one, the law will do it for you by the operation of statutes. Many people believe that they are not wealthy enough to need a Will. But if you own property that is titled (a car or house), after your death, those items cannot be transferred without opening an estate. If you don’t have a Will, the cost of processing your estate goes up significantly.
When a person dies and leaves property behind, that property is known as an estate. In order to transfer ownership of the property in the estate from the deceased to surviving heirs, the estate must go through the probate process. A Will not only identifies who will inherit the property, but names an executor to administer the estate. Without a Will, not only will statutes determine who gets your property, but the court will have to appoint and administrator to handle the estate. This is a costly process.
The most obvious benefit to having a Will is controlling what property passes to which heir. This is important if there are pieces of personal property that you want to go to a specific loved one for sentimental or other reasons. A Will also allows you to place conditions on the bequest, such as that the heir complete higher education or attain a certain age, before receiving his or her inheritance.
If these benefits of having a Will are not enough to convince you to take action, then consider those who you are leaving behind. A Will invariably makes the probate process smoother and easier for the survivors. In addition to controlling exactly where the property goes, a Will names the person or persons who will “execute” the estate, meaning the person who will gather the property and distribute it to the named heirs. This is often no small undertaking – it can involve selling stock, closing and consolidating bank accounts, liquidating assets, and more. In drafting a will, you should be sure to select an executor who has knowledge of the property in your estate and the competence and willingness to perform the job, all of which makes for a more efficient probate process. Without a Will, the court must appoint an administrator (obviously not of your choosing) to perform these tasks. Unfortunately, this is more costly and can lead to disagreements among family members.