Why do I need a will ? In Pennsylvania, every person should have a will no matter how small or large your estate is. As we all know, there are two things in this life that are certain: death and taxes. Planning for your demise is something that you probably do not want to do, but it something that everyone should do. A will is one of the only documents that is enforceable after you die and it dictates how your assets will be distributed upon your death. It can also save your estate in taxes after you pass. Proper estate planning is crucial.
Without a will, you assets will pass according to intestate succession, the distribution for which may be completely contrary to your wishes. One of the most common myths associated with intestate succession is that when one spouse dies, their property automatically passes to their surviving spouse. While this is true for anything titled jointly, anything titled solely to the deceased spouse will pass according to intestacy laws. For example, if a deceased spouse and a surviving spouse have two children together, the surviving spouse would be entitled to the first $30,000 of the decedent's estate and the remainder would be split with half going to the surviving spouse and half being split equally between the two children. If one of decedent's children is not also the child of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse would then not get the first $30,000.
In this instance, the surviving spouse would only get half of the estate with the other half being split equally between the children. While in theory it would be great for your children to get half of your estate, your spouse might not be able to survive financially if your estate is distributed according to the intestacy laws. With you gone, your surviving spouse now only has only one income and without your contributions, they may not be able to keep their head above water. Many spouses need to inherit all of their husband's or wife's estate to financially survive and raise the parties' children. Intestate succession also does not consider any individual who is not related to you by blood. Therefore, stepchildren are not entitled to distributions from your estate unless you specifically name them in your will. If you don't have children when you pass, your spouse would then have to share your estate with your surviving parents.
A will is especially important for those individuals with minor children as it allows them to appoint a guardian for their child if they pass away. Without a will or a surviving spouse, a court determines who will care for your children. Additionally, your will can create a minors trust for any property that passes to your children, appoint ages that your children will be able to access any funds that you leave them, and it can set rules that provide for college education and any other needs that your child may have. You can also name a trustee, one who would manage the trust, in your will. Once again, if you fail to name a trustee to handle any property passing to a minor, the court will appoint a trustee for you. The court will not name your spouse as trustee.
In addition to guardians and trustees, your will also names who will serve as executor of your estate and who will receive your property when you die. Many people feel that they do not have many assets and therefore they do not need a will. However, if you have a home or real estate, an automobile, any possessions that have financial or sentimental value, or a bank account, then you have an estate that will pass through intestate succession if you die without a will. Our attorneys at McMorrow Law, LLC are experienced with estate planning. Contact us today 724-940-0100 to begin your estate plan.