The expression “more money, more problems” could not be more applicable with regard to estate law. For those people with more money, the creation of a will is essential. Though writing a will is understandably unpleasant, writing down how property should be allocated after death helps everyone involved to avoid unnecessary legal hassles.
A will is a legal document to declare not only who will manage the estate after death but also designates which parties will receive which parts of the estate. The estate can consist of bigger, expensive items such as a vacation home but also smaller items that might have sentimental value.
The person named in the will to manage the estate is called the executor because they execute the stated wishes. A will can also designate the beneficiaries that will receive specific items. Finally, a will also designates an individual who would act as a guardian for any minor children or dependents.
In contrast, a will does not cover certain types of property, such as insurance policies and retirement accounts. For these specific interests, beneficiaries were listed when the insurance policies began or the retirement accounts were opened.
What Happens Without A Will
If death occurs without a valid will, the entire process becomes both more cumbersome and potentially disastrous because laws rigidly determine who will either inherit the estate or who will inherit parts of it. This process is called probate, or the legal process of transferring the property of a deceased person to the rightful recipients. Probate can be very contentious because the results are usually unsatisfying to everyone involved.
Unfortunately, because probate proceeds according to state laws, the probate process rarely gets overturned. In addition, because no executor was named, a judge appoints an impartial third party to administer the estate. As a result, an administrator is bound by the probate laws to make decisions unsatisfying to those involved.
Estate planners almost universally advise against joint wills. Separate wills are favored because joint death is rare and property is not always jointly held. In particular, and especially these days, separate wills allow each spouse to address specific issues such as ex-spouses and children from previous relationships. Separate wills also account for property that may have been obtained before the current marriage.
A probate court usually requires the original will to process the estate. As a result, it is important for the document to be kept safe, but accessible when the need arises to other people. The attorney who prepared the will should keep signed copies in case the original is destroyed. Though signed copies can establish the previous intentions included in the destroyed will, there is no guarantee the estate will be settled in exactly the indicated way.
History shows that families love to litigate about estate battles, so proper preparation of a will is in the best interests of successful people. Since each family has its own unique dynamic, full of ancient history and ongoing squabbles, the likelihood of resulting legal problems that come with contesting a will is high.
Therefore, to avoid all this unnecessary fighting, prepare a will designating who will receive what, when the time comes. The most important component of preparing for a will is actually creating a legally binding document, which instructs the court as to the wishes of how the estate should be divided. Good luck.
Contact us here for more information from Kim A. Bodnar, Attorney at Law, or to schedule a consultation in our office in Pittsburgh.
NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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