Why should you have a Will?

There are many reasons why people avoid or put off having a Will done. They think it is too expensive to pay an attorney to do it, or that they do not have enough assets to justify the attorney costs. With basic estate planning packages for a married couple starting around $700 or so, I agree that it is not necessarily cheap or an expense people are excited to pay for. Other times people just do not want to address the morbid thought that they will no longer be here on this earth and therefore avoid planning. But as with most things in life, its best to have a plan ahead and have a plan in place after you pass away. Here are a few compelling reasons why a well-conceived estate plan is beneficial to you and your loved ones.

  1. Express your intentions

Creating an estate plan allows you to clearly express how you wish to care for your loved ones. When you die without a will, the law imposes a specific inheritance scheme, and as such the law applies uniformly regardless of whether the results are what you or your family would have wanted. The law can get messy when looking at mixed families and separate property real estate. In such a situation a surviving spouse would receive a life estate in one-third of the land while the children would receive two-thirds of the land, and a remainder interest in the other third. (See Section 201.002 of the Texas Estates Code). Even if the law did not have unique quirks and allowed for entirely equal inheritances, that is not how everyone would want their estate to be divided. One of your children may require additional financial assistance, or you may be particularly close with a specific cousin, or nephew. There are a thousand scenarios where the default inheritance law would not match an individual's preferences for whom receives what assets.

Having a Will allows you to avoid the default inheritance scheme, express your wishes, and divide your estate assets in the manner you desire. You can give your friend or niece money or that one piece of jewelry they have always loved and then split the rest of your estate how you wish. You can put your estate assets into a trust for your children until they turn 25 to ensure that they do not receive the asstes at an immature age. The great thing about a Will is that you shape it for your personal wishes.

  1. Reduce administration expenses down the road

A proper estate plan will reduce costs and expenses later on. When an individual dies without a Will (also known as an intestate estate), there are several extra steps involved when probating the intestate estate in comparison to a testate estate (when an individual dies with a Will). There are additional costs for the proceedings to declare the heirs, and these costs can be significant. Once the heirs are declared, the estate can be opened. As mentioned above, a heirs' share of the estate will be determined under the Texas default law which can lead to unwanted results. There may be a house which is split among of several heirs who all now have fractional interests in the property. You can imagine the difficulties involved in deciding what to do with a house that has eight owners. To avoid this result, the heirs can enter into a family settlement agreement and devise the estate how the wish but this is an added layer of complexity and usually involves the services of an attorney as well. Ultimately, the costs from administrating an intestate estate are easily double the amount an individual thinks they are saving by not paying to have a Will done. That means less money for your family after your passing and more money for the attorney to handle all of the additional steps involved in an intestate estate.

  1. You are not sure what assets you may own at your death

I have seen a few scenarios where an individual passed away without knowing what exactly he or she owned. If you think you do have not enough assets to justify meeting with an attorney to prepare a Will, then please read this quick story which I have slightly adapted for anonymity purposes. Tracy had recently passed away and in her Will gave everything to her best friend, Bernice, having written out of her Will her two children because they failed to show any love, concern, or care towards Tracy as adults. It is was very modest estate. Shortly after Tracy's passing and during the estate administration, our office learned that Tracy was an heir to oil and gas minerals from Tracy's grandparents in a certain oil-booming state here in the U.S. While the royalties and other payments admittedly were not life changing, it was still a substantial amount that most of us would very much welcome but Tracy had no idea that she had these oil and gas interests. However, if Tracy had chosen not to have a Will because her assets were very modest, then the valuable oil and gas interests would have gone to the children that Tracy very much did not want included as her heirs. As a result of Tracy's Will, she was able to express her clear intent that Bernice receive everything which included those mineral interests.

The estate planning process can seem costly, confusing, and at times morbid, but there are several benefits to having an estate plan. If you are interested in creating an estate plan or modifying an out-of-date one, research probate attorneys in your area. It is best to contact an attorney who specializes in probate and estate planning work since they are the attorneys most fluent in probate law and conscious of the many pitfalls in estate plans.