Wills and Estate Planning

Should I Have a Will?

Having a will is almost a necessity these days. Without one, your assets go to state probate court and will be dispersed based on state laws rather than your wishes.

Why Do I Need a Will?

Creating a will is essential for just about everyone. Fortunately, making a legally binding Last Will and Testament is not nearly as complicated as most people believe it to be. Moreover, having a Will can help spare your loved ones from a lengthy ordeal with state probate courts, who will then decide how to disperse your assets according to state rules - instead of according to your final wishes. Here are a few equally important reasons to make out a will ASAP.

You need to elect someone to handle your affairs after you pass on.

You'll need to assign one honest and trustworthy individual to be the executor of your estate. (Note: It does not have to be a member of your family.) The executor or executrix is responsible for inventorying your assets and property, making sure any lingering debts and taxes (including estate taxes) are paid, properly dispersing your assets, and informing your banks and creditors that you are deceased, as well as guiding your case through probate court. (Note: All assets are officially dispersed through probate court, regardless of whether there is a will or not, but having a will in place makes this process much simpler.) If you do not choose an executor, the state will appoint one for you, and anyone can petition the court to hold this position.

If you don't have a legally binding will, the state will decide who gets what.

An “oral will” (final requests spoken aloud in front of witnesses) and a “holographic will” (a document drawn up by you without the presence of witnesses) may not have much legal bearing in court. A formally prepared Will signed by two, or sometimes three witnesses, (who of which do not stand to inherit) can be the best way to ensure that your money and assets are left to the heirs you intend to leave them to. Intestacy laws vary from state by state, but in the event that there is no Will, a person's assets are awarded to immediate family first (spouse, children, and parents). If there is no remaining immediate family, your assets are dispersed between your siblings and their children, or your grandparents, or your uncles and aunts and their children.

A will determines legal guardianship of your children if they are still minors.

Parents of young children should be especially proactive about making a will, because a Will determines who your children's guardians would be in the event that you (or you and your spouse) die prematurely. If there is no Will in place, that decision is also left to the state. If you have a trust, a business, or a large amount of assets you would like to divide up between your children now or when they reach a certain age, your Will should make your intentions clear.

If you live in a community property state.

It's important to mention that some states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin), consider property that is owned by a married couple as “community property,” meaning that any assets purchased during the marriage are owned equally by both husband and wife (this also includes any debts). If one of you dies without a Will specifying who gets what, the intestacy laws of your state will decide for you.

You can amend your will at any time.

If your marital status changes, or you decide you'd like to update the names of your beneficiaries, your Will can be formally amended at any time. You can simply draft a new Will or attach a Codicil to your existing Will, add your signature and the date, and have it signed and dated by at least two witnesses who do not stand to inherit anything from your Will. Do note that some states also require Wills and Codicils to be notarized, so be sure to consult the intestacy laws of your specific state. In either case, having your Will notarized can only enhance its legitimacy.

If you're looking for legal advice regarding your will, an attorney who specializes in estate laws in your state of residence should be able to answer any questions you may have. You can also find more information about creating a legally binding will, preparing for the unexpected, and estate planning in the Protective Learning Center.

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All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

Neither Protective Life nor its representatives offer legal or tax advice. We encourage you to consult with your financial adviser and legal or tax adviser regarding your individual situations before making investment, social security, retirement planning, and tax‐related decisions. For information about Protective Life and its products and services, visit www.protective.com.

Need a Will

Wondering why you might need a will? If you want to be sure that your final requests are carried out according to your wishes, you will need a will. From estate planning and assets to the legal guardianship of minor children, most everyone today needs a will. Fortunately, there are resources available that can make creating your last will and testament an easy process. For more information, visit our learning center.

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