Legal Focus: Wills
1. What Happens If You Die Without A Will?
Answer – if you die without a will, the law classifies you as being “intestate.” How this affects your situation depends on numerous factors. Each state has a set of laws called the intestacy laws which specify who receives your property if you die without a will. Generally, if you have a surviving spouse, most if not all your assets are transferred to the spouse. If you have a spouse as well as minor children (under 18), some states require that a portion of your assets be placed into guardianship accounts for your children. To accomplish the transfer either to your spouse or to your children, the local Probate Court will appoint an administrator for your estate. This person’s job will be to inventory all of your assets as well as your debts and then distribute assets according to the state’s intestacy laws. If you have minor children, the Probate Court will also appoint a guardian for them. This is automatically your surviving spouse but if you do not have a surviving spouse, the court may appoint one of your other relatives or may appoint a totally unrelated person.
2. What does a Will do for me?
Answer – a will lets you specify who gets your property and does not leave that decision up to a state statute. A will also lets you specify who should be the guardian of your minor children as opposed to leaving that decision up to the probate court judge. In effect, your will gives probate court a “road map” as to what to do with your property and who you would want to take care of your children.
3. What doesn’t a Will do for me?
Answer – a will does not keep the administration of your estate out of probate court. What your will does is to issue the court instructions as to what to do. Only the proper use of trusts can keep probate court out of the administration of your estate.
4. How do I properly execute a Will?
Answer – each state has slightly different formal requirements. Ohio requires 2 witnesses, while Kentucky requires 2 witnesses and a notary. Wills can be done without meeting these requirements but then must be proven to be genuine to the court which can be a difficult process.
This article is for general informational purposes only, is not for the purpose of providing legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with an attorney to obtain advice as to your particular issue or circumstances. 530045.1