Wills Part 1: What is a Will and who needs one?

Wills Part 1: What is a Will and who needs one?

A Will, formally called a “Last Will and Testament”, is probably the most well-known estate planning document.  Most people know that a Will is the document where you designate in writing your wishes for how your assets should be distributed upon your death.  Your wishes can include specific gifts of tangible personal property to individuals, monetary gifts to people or charities, all the way down to a specific bequest of your beloved pet to a trusted friend or family member. 

In addition to controlling the disposition of assets, a Will serves a few other important functions. In the Will, you get to designate the person you want to administer your assets upon death.  This person is called the personal representative or executor.  If you die without a Will, the laws of the state where you live control who can be appointed to serve as personal representative of your estate and that person may be someone you don’t trust or would not have picked.   

Another important function of the Will is the ability to designate guardians to care for your minor children upon your death.  The responsibility of caring for minor children can be divided and assigned to different individuals. For instance, you may designate one person to maintain physical custody of your children but assign the financial responsibility to someone else.  If you die without a Will and leave minor children behind, the laws of the state where you live control who can be designated to serve as the guardians of your children. 

A Will can also include your preferences for burial versus cremation and whether you want to have a memorial or funeral service upon your death. 

With regard to the disposition of your assets upon death, it is important for you to understand that if you die without a Will, the laws of the state where you live will control who gets your assets upon your death.  For example, in Maryland, if you die leaving a surviving spouse and surviving children, your spouse Will receive 50% of your assets and the other 50% will be split equally between your children.  If you die leaving a surviving spouse, no children, and surviving parents, your spouse will receive 50% of your assets and your surviving parents may receive the other 50% depending on how long you have been married.  Creating a Will can avoid all of this.

A Will is an essential estate planning document that every adult should have in place. If you do not have a Will in place, or your circumstances have changed since you last prepared one, contact us for a free consultation to discuss your current estate planning needs.