A last will and testament is one of the few documents mentioned regularly in pop culture, and unlike most complex legal documents, most people are aware of its basic definition. Yet in spite of that, more than 60% of American adults do not have a will in place. A last will and testament outlines your wishes after you die, from financial asset distribution to guardianship for other family members.
But why exactly is it still important to get a will? Our Reno estate planning attorneys have experience helping hundreds of clients to create a lasting legacy, and we’ve seen firsthand the positive impact a well-prepared will can have on a family.
What Can a Last Will and Testament Do for Your Family?
Wills aren’t just for the distribution of financial assets and real estate properties: They can also lay out your wishes about important family dynamics and guardianships. If you have minor children still at home, a will should be a given, as it is the only legal document able to assign them a legal guardian if you and/or your spouse unexpectedly pass. In a will, you can also lay out specific conditions you would like to be met regarding your child’s upbringing, education, and living arrangements, ensuring they will be treated well long after your passing.
A will can also be helpful if you care for elderly parents, or other extended family members, who will need financial assistance when you are gone. Other unscrupulous inheritors may try to take advantage of your elderly recipients, or to argue they are not entitled to the things you’ve promised them. In other situations, you may prevent elderly recipients from getting the government assistance or medical care they need, as simply giving them a lump sum could disqualify them from these programs. Clearly dictating your wishes in your will is one of the best ways to guarantee proper care for your family.
How a Will Can Affect Your Financial Legacy
Another reason to create a will to speed up the probate process. Although all estates technically go through probate and become part of the public record (unless they have chosen to use a living trust), the difference between those with a clearly-defined will and those who have no documentation is striking. Probate appeals and contests can span for decades, and bitter family disputes may arise over small objects, like a book or a cherished piece of jewelry.
According to sources, Frank Sinatra specifically included a “no-contest clause” in his will, to ensure there were no squabbles over his more than $500 million estate. Known as a “poison pill” to lawyers, his clever addition of more than 13 forbidden contest points prevented a single disagreement about his inheritance wishes. While this isn’t the right measure for everyone, wills allow you to have more authority over the distribution of your assets, preventing costly conflict from destroying your financial legacy.
In the end, a will is always a sound decision, for these reasons and for many others. While more straightforward estates may not need a detailed will, any degree of complexity – from pets to interstate property to surviving minors – can make working through your will with an estate planning firm an absolute necessity.
Ready to discuss the terms of your own last will and testament? Our Reno estate planning attorneys at Fahrendorf, Viloria, Oliphant & Oster, L.L.P. can help.