Do You Really Need A Will?


jessica jensenA Will (also called a Last Will and Testament) is a legal document that identifies who will manage your assets when you die and directs who you want to have your assets.  What I mean by “assets” is all of your property – your home and other real estate, vehicles, bank, investment and retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, household furniture and furnishings and personal belongings.

Did you know that state law will govern what happens to your assets if you don’t have a Will?  The State will not literally come into your home to take control of your assets so no worries there.  How it works is that state law determines who will have control of your assets and who will ultimately get those assets if you don’t have a Will.  Here are a few scenarios that can happen if you don’t have a Will.  Your community assets would go to your spouse or registered domestic partner if you are married or partnered.  But that means your children from a prior relationship could be left with nothing.  And if you have separate property (acquired before your relationship or by gift or inheritance), only a portion goes to your spouse.  If you are single, your assets will go to your parents, if living, or to your siblings.

If you have minor children, state law also dictates who will raise your children if you don’t name someone to be their guardian.  Do you really want your minor children being raised by your in-laws in Iowa or your sister in New York City?  And if your children inherit from you, how do you feel about your 11 year old’s inheritance being managed by the other parent if that parent is your former spouse or partner?

I like to say that making a Will is about choice – you decide what happens rather than state law.  Not having a Will is letting the chips fall where they may.  Sometimes that’s okay.  For example, young adults (college students and recent grads) who are single, have no children and have relatively few assets can probably get by without a Will.  Everyone else should have a Will – if for no other reason than to make it for easy on those you leave behind.  And if any of the following applies to you, you really ought to have a Will:

  • minor children or grandchildren
  • unregistered domestic partner
  • special needs child or grandchild who receives state or federal benefits
  • blended family (meaning, your spouse is not the parent of all of your children)
  • do not want your family (or just some of them) to manage or inherit your assets
  • assets plus insurance valued at $4 million or more

I am often asked what I think of do-it-yourself Will kits.  These are great for a single person with no kids and few assets.  Once you have assets, children or a spouse or partner, have your Will done professionally by an attorney.  If prepared with the future in mind, your Will should last 20 years or more – even if you don’t have kids or grandkids now but might have them in the future.

About The Author

Jessica Jensen is the owner of Jessica Jensen Law in Olympia.  Her firm’s general practice includes Estate Planning:  Wills, Trusts, Estates and Guardianships.

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