Reference Library

Topics include education, estate, insurance, investment, retirement and risk management planning as well as basic tips for budgeting.

Estate Planning

Wills for Estate Planning

What is a will and why is it important?

A will is a legally enforceable declaration of how a person wishes his or her property to be distributed after death. In a will, a person can also recommend a guardian for your children and make other provisions that might be otherwise be left to the Court and Probate Judge. A will also enables the naming of an executor — the person or institution responsible for overseeing the settlement of your affairs.

Creating Your Will

Although you are not required to use an attorney to prepare your will, you must follow some very precise rules to make sure that the will is valid. While there are many print, software and Internet resources to help you draft your will, it is generally worth the time and expense to prepare your will with the assistance of an attorney who is experienced with the inheritance laws of your state of residence.

If you currently have a will, you've taken a wise step. You should periodically review and update your will to reflect changes in your property holdings, that your intentions remain as stated and that your will addresses any changes to Federal estate tax laws or State inheritance law. If you amend your will, or prepare a new one, you should destroy copies of all of your prior wills.

What happens if you die without a will?

The legal term for dying without a will is to die "intestate," and the distribution of your property will be based on the laws of intestacy of the state in which you reside at the time of death.

In the absence of a will, the Probate Court will appoint an administrator for your estate. Your estate must pay for the probate process, which could last from several months to several years depending on the size and complexity of the estate. After a complicated and possibly lengthy procedure, all of your assets will be distributed according to the state's formula or a judge's determination. The probate process is also a matter of public record.

Due to the length of time it may take for your estate to be settled, the financial security of your family may be impacted. In addition, by not being able to take advantage of tax benefits through proper estate planning, your estate could have to pay more federal and state taxes than necessary — leaving less for your loved ones.

None of the information in this document should be considered as tax or legal advice. You should consult your tax or legal advisor for information concerning your individual situation.