Why Do I Need a Last Will and Testament?

Do I Really Need a Will?

Nobody likes to think about dying.  That’s why many people avoid working with an estate planning attorney to put together a Will.

If you’ve put off thinking about your estate plan, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have minor children?
  • Do you want to minimize taxes and stress for your loved ones after you die?
  • Do you have a blended family, a spouse, or a committed romantic partner you aren’t married to?
  • Do you want control over how your property is divided after your death?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s time to stop delaying.  Instead, you should strongly consider working with an estate planning attorney to develop your Last Will and Testament.

Most people can benefit from the peace of mind offered by a will, but having one is especially important for people who answer “yes” to one or more of the questions above. Let’s talk about why that is.

Here are some of the things a will can do for you:

A Will Allows You to Nominate a Guardian for Your Minor Children.

If one parent dies then generally the surviving parent will have custody of the child.  But if both parents die while the child is still a minor then a court would need to determine who should become the child’s guardian. Any of your friends or family members can nominate themselves to be appointed as guardian, and then it is up to the court to decide what is best for your child.

But, of course, you and the court may have different ideas about what’s best for your child.  That’s why it’s a good idea to have a will.

In a will you can nominate someone to be your child’s guardian after your death.

The court will still have final say, but in general a lot of weight is given to the parents’ wishes.  You can even nominate an alternate or successor guardian in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve.

A Will Minimizes Stress For Your Heirs.

Even if your estate is very small your heirs usually will be better served if you leave a will.

If you don’t leave a will and your estate has a value above the minimal limits qualifying it for the special procedures of a “small estate,” then your estate will need to be probated.  This means that your heirs will have to prove your death and their relationship to you in order to take possession of your assets.

In most situations someone will have to file a petition with the probate court to administer your estate, which can cost a fair amount of time, money, and trouble.  Whoever petitions to be appointed as administrator of your estate will most likely have to post a probate bond to protect your heirs in case of the administrator’s fraud or misconduct.  This is an expense that can be waived by a valid Last Will and Testament.

Your will can waive probate bonds, inventories, and other reports to the court.  Essentially, a will streamlines the process for your heirs and saves your estate money, time, and stress.

Your Will can also be written to minimize taxes, again keeping money in the pockets of people you choose, rather than giving it to the government.

A Will Gives You Control Over Who Inherits From You.

When you die without a will you leave it up to Alabama’s “intestacy statute” to determine how your property is divided.  While the intestacy laws do a pretty good job of following what the average person wants to do with his property upon his death, they may not align with your wishes.

What if you have a committed romantic partner whom you are not married to?  Under Alabama law if you die without a will your partner will not receive any part of your estate.  What if you are a blended family and die leaving a spouse and children from a previous relationship? Absent a will, your spouse and children will share equally in your estate, and that may not be what you want or what’s best for your children.  What if your only living relative is a brother whom  you haven’t spoken to in thirty years?  Alabama’s intestacy statute says that he gets your entire estate even though you are estranged.

The only way you can have control over who inherits from you is by using a Will to state your wishes.

A Will Gives You Control Over How Your Property Is Divided.

The only way to be sure that you have a say in how your property is divided after your death is to have a will.

While you may feel like you don’t have enough cash to care what happens to your estate you shouldn’t forget about your non-cash assets, like your personal possessions with sentimental value.  If you want your family heirlooms to go to specific people then you should record those wishes in a Last Will and Testament.

You can also avoid disputes among your heirs by specifying who should receive certain items.  For example, if you know that all of your children would like to have some of your jewelry you can spell out in your will which pieces each child should receive.

Even If You Think You Don’t Have Enough Money to Need a Will, You Should Still Consider Having One.

Your estate may become more valuable overnight if, for example, you win the lottery, receive a large inheritance, or get a massive bonus at work.   You may not care who inherits your property when it’s worth $5,000, but you probably would care if it suddenly ballooned in value to $500,000.00!  A will can help you plan for these possibilities, however remote they may seem.

The best way to know whether you need a will is to discuss your situation with a lawyer.

If you already have a Will, you should remember to review it at least annually and after any major life event to make sure it still works for you.

Get peace of mind by talking to our experienced estate planning attorneys today.  Call us at 205-553-5353 or come by our Tuscaloosa office to find out what we can do to protect your property and your family.