Did you know that April is National Financial Literacy Month? An important partner to financial literacy is a basic understanding of estate planning, and the central building block of a good estate plan is a will. In recognition of National Financial Literacy Month, I have compiled what I believe are the top three reasons to make a will.
1. Create Your Own Plan for Your Assets
First, a will allows you to plan for the disposition of your assets according to your wishes. Did you know that the government has put in place a plan for disposition of your assets, even if you never make a will yourself? This “plan” is a series of rules written by your state’s Legislature called the Rules for Intestate Succession. They have been written by the Legislature in your state to govern what happens to your assets if you die without making your own will. Making your own will allows you to opt-out of the government default rules, and make your own rules for what happens to your estate. Under intestate succession, your assets generally go to your “next of kin” but how this is determined varies according to whether you were married or single when you died, and whether you leave surviving children. For some people, the intestate rules might follow just what they would wish had they written their own rules. For others, the intestate rules may dictate that their estate or a portion of their estate goes to a relative who they never would have included had they written their own plan. For this reason, it is a good idea to write your own plan for the disposition of your estate, by creating and signing your own will.
2. Nominate a Legal Guardian for Minor Children
Second, a will allows you to nominate a legal guardian for your minor children. This does not apply to everyone, but for anyone with children under the age of 18, a will is the only way for you to nominate a legal guardian for your children in the event of your death. A legal guardian is responsible for raising your children, and providing for their health and welfare in your absence, until the child becomes an adult. In the absence of a will specifically nominating a legal guardian for your children, the local court will decide who is best suited to raise and care for your children. Therefore, if you would like to make this decision, instead of a judge, executing your own will is the best way to do this.
3. Name a Personal Representative in Charge of Your Estate
Third, a will allows you to name a Personal Representative who will be in charge of your estate after your death. A Personal Representative (sometimes called an Executor), is the person you designate to care for your property, take your estate through probate, and distribute your assets in accordance with your wishes after your death. Probate is the name for the legal process used by the courts to identify and inventory your property after your death, and distribute it to your heirs according to either your wishes as laid out in your Will, or according to the rules of intestacy (if you died without a will). If you die intestate (without a will), instead of you deciding who should be the Personal Representative, the local court in the County that you resided in when you died will decide who should be in charge of this process, and will appoint someone to act as administrator of your estate.
In conclusion, if you are comfortable with the Legislature’s plan for your estate, you may be comfortable without making a will, since you have opted into their system by default. If you want to make your own decisions about any of the things mentioned above, you should consider executing your own will which reflects your wishes. In addition to the top three reasons mentioned above, there are many other options and choices you can make through the formation of a comprehensive estate plan. Since each situation is unique, I recommend consulting with a good estate planning attorney to get a complete overview of your options. For additional information, you can find the previously mentioned Rules for Intestate Succession in Chapter 852 of the Wisconsin Statutes, or in Chapter 524.2 of the Minnesota Statutes.
The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship. For advice regarding a specific legal issue, please contact me or another attorney for assistance. Attorney Thomas B. Burton is the owner and operator of The Law Office of Thomas B. Burton, a virtual law office serving clients throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. For more information please visit www.theburtonlawoffice.com