James V. Murray
Ten Reasons Why You Need a Will
A will, or Last Will and Testament, is a legal document that allows an adult to declare his or her desires for what will happen to property after death. A will is important for nearly everyone, yet an estimated 55-60 percent of Americans do not have one. You may think you do not need a will, but if you fit in any of the following categories, you need one.
1.You want a say in how your property is divided after your death.
When you die, any property in your name must be distributed. Without a will stating your wishes, the court will determinate where the property goes, following guidelines set up by the Oklahoma Legislature. The distribution scheme set up in the Oklahoma statutes, called intestate succession, largely depends on what relatives survive you, but generally, property will go to your spouse, children, parents, and/or siblings. For example, in most circumstances, if you leave a wife, with whom you have two children, your spouse will receive one-half (1/2) of your property, and your kids will each receive one-fourth (1/4) of your property. This may or may not be your intention. A will clarifies your desires after your death. Through a will, you also can name the person or persons you wish to handle your affairs after your death. This person, called a personal representative or executor, is responsible for paying your debts, hiring an attorney, filing papers with the court, and distributing your assets. You can also ensure that your personal representative serves without the necessity of obtaining a bond by stating so in your will.
2.You have minor children.
In a will, you can name guardians for your children. While a minor child’s other parent will usually have full custody, in some cases that parent may be unable or unwilling to properly care for your child. If you have voiced a desire by naming a guardian in your will, a court will not have to determine a guardian without knowing your intentions.
3.You are married and have children from a prior marriage.
Under the Oklahoma intestacy provisions, if you leave a surviving spouse and children from a prior marriage, each of them will receive a portion of your property. This may not be your desire. For example, if you want your surviving spouse to receive an entire piece of property, you need to state that in your will. Alternatively, if you have concerns that your surviving spouse, or his or her family, would not provide for your children, you may need to take that into consideration in preparing a will. Not to mention all of the BLENDED FAMILY ISSUES AND POLITICS. These issues need to be addressed.
4.You own a business.
If you own a business, it is important for you to legally state who should inherit that business. A business partner? An employee? Your spouse? For example, if you do not leave a will and own a business with your spouse, your children may inherit a portion of that business. You may wish to ensure your spouse receives your portion of the business. Stating your desires in your will clears up questions for your survivors.
5.You have conveyed all your property into a trust.
You may have set up a living trust to hold your property. Yes, this often avoids the need for a probate of your estate. However, if you forget to convey a piece of property into the trust, or you inherit property after the fact, a probate may still be necessary. With a will, you can ensure that the entirety of your estate (including any omitted property) is distributed to your trust. This back-up plan is a necessity with any trust.
6.You want to leave money to your church or your great-grandmother’s china to the museum.
Without a will, this is unlikely to happen. You can declare your wishes to support certain organizations in your will.
7.You want to prevent your brother, mother, or other relative from inheriting property from you.
Oklahoma law determines heirs based solely on family relationships. Your spouse, children, parents, etc. are going to get your property if you have not stated otherwise in a will. The court doesn’t care if you and your sister haven’t spoken in years, or if you desire to keep your son from inheriting your farmland. Furthermore, there are steps you can take to prevent your spouse from inheriting your property and leaving it to your in-laws. Without a will, however, these decisions are taken out of your hands – and the hands of your loved ones.
8.You want to leave money or property to your grandson, stepdaughter, domestic partner, best friend, neighbor, hairdresser, dog groomer, etc.
Oklahoma law does not assume that you want to leave money to your grandchildren if their parents (your children) are still alive. The intestacy scheme will not automatically distribute property to your stepchildren. Further, Oklahoma courts will not distribute your estate to your domestic partner unless you state that intention. If you want to leave your property to persons other than close family relations (as defined by Oklahoma law), you need a legal document making it clear.
9.You have a retirement account or life insurance policy with one or more named beneficiaries.
Yes, you name beneficiaries on these accounts and policies so the companies know who should receive this property – and a probate of your estate shouldn’t be necessary based on these types of accounts. However, if your named beneficiary dies, then this account may revert back to your estate – and then, again, without a will, Oklahoma law decides who gets the money.
10.You want to prevent your loved ones from fighting.
Without a will, neither your family members nor the court will know your desires or intentions – and your desires will become irrelevant. Oklahoma’s intestacy scheme will determine who gets your property – and often, this scheme creates problems for your loved ones. In many cases, these problems lead to expensive and time-consuming litigation among your surviving family members. You have the power to save your loved ones immeasurable stress and countless dollars by making your intentions clear in your Last Will and Testament. Your will can be a gift to your survivors after your death.