Why You Need a Will

There are many misconceptions regarding the need to have a Will. Even if you have few assets you need a Will because a Will governs much more than the simple distribution of your property. For example, a Will allows you to select a guardian for your minor children; without a Will a court would decide who takes on that very important role. There are numerous other significant differences in dying with or without a Will. Here are just a few:

  • With a Will, your entire estate can be left to your spouse; without a Will your estate is shared by your spouse and children, including minors.
  • With a Will, all or any part of your assets can be given to a trustee of your choice to manage those assets for the benefit of minor children, incapacitated adults, persons with special needs or persons who need protection from themselves in the handling of their financial affairs. Without a Will children get their inheritance outright at age 18 and incapacitated or special needs persons would have to fend for themselves unless someone could convince a court to appoint a conservator.
  • With a Will, your executor can sell or otherwise manage all your property without having to get any permissions from a court; without a Will your heirs must petition the court for this authority to be given.
  • With a Will, you can absolve your executor from having to post a surety bond or to file an inventory and periodic reports with the court. Without a Will, again, your heirs have to ask the court for relief from these duties.

There are also several other special situations that virtually demand the need for a Will. Do you have children from a prior marriage? Is your estate large enough to make estate taxes a concern (remember, life insurance proceeds count here). Are charitable bequests important to you? Do you have certain heirlooms or other things that you want to go to certain people? If any of your answers to these questions is “yes,” you really must have a Will

Another misconception in this area is that having to probate a Will is very expensive and an administrative nightmare for your executor, being really more trouble than its worth. In some parts of the country there is some truth to this notion and in those areas alternative devices such as living trusts are commonly employed. In Georgia, probate is a simplified, relatively inexpensive process that may be handled with little or no assistance from a lawyer. In this state, you can almost guarantee your heirs more trouble and expense if you die without, rather than with, a Will.

Another Will “dodging” technique is to title assets as “joint with right of survivorship.” While this can a useful arrangement, there is no way it can fully replace a Will; it is virtually impossible to get all your assets titled this way and it totally begs the issue of a simultaneous death. It also ignores the important administrative provisions of a Will such as guardianships, authority to sell and the like.