WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
WHERE THERE IS NO WILL, THERE MAY BE CHAOS
When you go see a layer to prepare your Will, he or she will ask a series of important questions. Your Will is the place to answer those questions. If you don’t have a Will, there are no answers. Let’s see what those questions are.
First, and most important, who will raise your children if you and your spouse die before they are grown? If you don’t have a Will, you have no input. You cannot ask your family to make sure your children stay in their home town or home school district. You cannot emphasize the importance of giving them a religious education or making it possible for them to develop their athletic or artistic talents.
If you don’t pick someone to raise your children, your families will surely find a volunteer. But what if both spouses’ families want the children to be raised by their side? That could lead to a court fight, and that is the last thing your orphaned children need. Your families could also pick your warm and loving sibling. The one who doesn’t discipline his or her own children because it “stifles their creativity”. Would you be okay with that?
Second, who will handle your affairs after you are gone? That person is called an executor, administrator or personal representative. Some families have lots of worthy candidates. Some have none. You want someone who will get the job done fairly and efficiently and without ruffling any unnecessary feathers. If you don’t have a Will and don’t delegate that job, the first person to the courthouse will probably get the job, whether or not that person is the one best suited to do it.
Third, if you have no Will, your children will get their inheritance as long as they are at least 18. If you have raised children who are responsible adults at age 18, congratulations on a job well done. If your children are more typical, their inheritance will be gone by the time they are 19 or 20. That could leave them in a financial bind, as well as causing you to roll over in your grave.
With a Will, you can pick the ages and conditions under which your children get their inheritance. Your wealth will still be available to send them to college, help them to buy a farm or a first home or to pursue any other worthy projects. However, there will be someone with grown up judgment between the children and their money. Someone to say that “yes, the child can have a car,” but “no, the car cannot be a Corvette.”
Fourth, how does your wealth get spent on your children? Does it stay in one pot to pay tuition for one child atIowaStateand tuition for another child at Harvard? Does it pay for graduate school and post- graduate school for any child who chooses to go? Or does each child have an equal share regardless of the needs and desires the other children?
Are you helping to support your parents or making charitable gifts that you want to continue after your death? If you have no spouse and no children (and no Will), your wealth will go to your parents. If you have a spouse or children, your help for your parents may stop at your death. You can continue that help, but, again, it takes a Will to do that.
What if you have a farm or a vacation home or something else that everyone wants? Without a Will, all assets get divided among your heirs, without regard to your wishes on the matter. If your assets are liquid, that is not a problem. Anyone can do the math and dole the assets out. But any asset (even ones without significant monetary value) can ignite a family feud. A Will is the best chance of avoiding that scenario.
How about grandchildren? If you are lucky enough to have them, you might want to leave them something as a remembrance of you. You cannot do that without a Will.
Are your children happily married to good people who are good to their children? Maybe one of your children has had an unhappy marriage and has an ex-spouse who thrives on drama. If that child should somehow predecease you, that ex-spouse will probably end up raising the grandchildren.
If the deceased child’s share then goes to those grandchildren, and if the ex-spouse is the person who gets to dole out the grandchildren’s money, how much of that money do you think the grandchildren will see? If that scenario troubles you, you can change it by Will.
Finally, what if you are alone in the world? No spouse, no descendants, no living parents and no siblings. Maybe you don’t care where your wealth goes then, but if you do care, you need a Will to say so. Otherwise, your wealth will go to extended relatives. It could even go to people you barely know. That is not the best result, but again, it takes a Will to change it.
Now let’s say you do have siblings. They will inherit automatically if you have no Will, no living parents, no spouse and no descendants. Do you want all of your siblings to inherit equally from you? Be honest; in large families, there is sometimes one sibling no one really likes. Or some who has done so well that they don’t need your money. Again, you can pick and choose among your siblings, nieces and nephews, but you need to lay out your choices in a Will.
Those are the questions a lawyer will ask if you decide to get a Will. If you have minor children, a Will is a necessity, because it is the only way you can provide for their future. If your children are grown, you can decide if any of these questions are important enough to answer in a Will. If they are, you need to see an attorney. In most cases, you will be glad you did.