Family legacies and heirlooms are important for many people. Yet studies show that many Americans do not have adequate estate plans in place to ensure the distribution of their possessions and property, in accordance with their wishes, when they pass away. In fact, one recent study found that only 46% of US adults have executed a Last Will and Testament (“Will”).
Benefits of a Will
A Will is a legal document in which an individual sets forth how and to whom their assets and property will be distributed upon their death. While a Will may include items of significant value, such as a home, car, or savings account, it can also include family photos or heirlooms of nominal value.
Dying without a Will
An individual who dies before executing a Will is said to die “intestate”. When an individual dies intestate, the state intestacy laws determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets and property.
Modification to an existing Will
A common estate planning mistake is the assumption that a Will updates automatically on its own as life changes occur. Modifications to a Will are not necessary if the choice of beneficiaries remains the same; however, if a person’s wishes or beneficiaries have changed, a failure to modify can result in people receiving property which you no longer intend to leave to them.
If you do not modify your Will to reflect your most current circumstances and wishes, there is no way for your Executor or Executrix to alter the estate distribution based on something expressed verbally – they are bound by what is written in the Will.
What to include in a Will?
While it is up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to list every item they own, or simply divide their entire estate among the beneficiaries that they designate, one thing that all Wills should include is a residuary clause.
A residuary clause acts as a catch all for any property that was not included as a specific bequest. This clause ensures that all of an individual’s property is properly distributed in accordance with their wishes.
Speaking to loved ones
Many people are reluctant to discuss their own mortality regardless of their age. However, communication is vital to ensuring your estate plan is properly carried out.
Executing a Last Will and Testament but failing to notify family, and perhaps the named Executor or Executrix, of its whereabouts (for safekeeping) could also cause avoidable issues during the probate process.
Meeting with an Attorney
Scheduling an appointment with an attorney to prepare, or update, estate planning documents is the key step to achieve the peace of mind that an individual’s wishes will be carried out when they pass away.