Who should have a will?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 16, 2019

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It is often difficult for people to think about death, and understandably so, but in order to ensure that your loved ones are cared for after you pass away, it is important to consider drafting a will. A will is a written document, often prepared with the help of an attorney, that designates guardians for minor children, names a personal representative to handle the distribution of the estate, and provides instructions for the distribution of money, assets and property. If a person dies without a will already established, it will be left up to the courts to make decisions of these matters. The term Last Will and Testament is a more complicated name for a will—but, it means the same thing.

If you have minor children, parental rights will usually fall to your spouse or your child’s parent in the event of your death, but if they are no longer living, are not interested in caring for the child, or are unfit, you can use a will to nominate a more reliable person as your child’s guardian. There’s no guarantee a court will accept this nomination, but courts will usually give a nomination priority if no one objects or if the other parent really is unfit or uninterested. Parents may also want to use a will to designate guardians for their minor children in the case they both die.

Most states laws say that if a person dies without a will, property will be given to relatives, such as spouses or children, in various percentages. But if you have property that has meaning to you and you want it to go to someone specific, your will should reflect these wishes. So, even if you don’t have a large estate, you might make a Will so that you can choose who will get things that are meaningful to you.

If you have a large or complicated estate, a simple will may not be the best estate planning option for you. Wills usually have to pass through a court process called probate that is often slow and costly. There are estate planning techniques to avoid probate, and you could save a lot of money for your heirs by getting advice from an experienced estate planning attorney.

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