People often wonder why family members, financial advisors and lawyers recommend having a Will as part of a complete estate plan. Today's blog will address some of the benefits of having a Last Will and Testament.
WHAT IS A WILL?
A Will is a formal legal document that dictates what will happen to a person's property following the person's death, and who will handle the distribution of the property to the designated beneficiaries. The Will can also dicate who will have guardianship over the person's minor children if the other parent is unavailable or incapable of caring for the children.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING A WILL?
By having a Will, the person gets to decide who receives the estate, rather than having the law decide. In the absence of a Will, the law dictates that the property passes to the deceased person's "heirs". The law contains elaborate provisions that determine who the heirs are (generally spouse, children, parents and siblings) and what types and percentages of property the heirs receive. Often, an individual specifically does not want property to go to certain individuals that would be heirs, and a Will is a perfect way to avoid that undesired consequence.
If there is no Will, the deceased person is known as an "intestate". The probate process for an intestate estate is significantly more complicated. A legal proceeding known as an heirship proceeding must be completed before the estate can be distributed. The purpose of an heirship proceeding is for the Court to determine who the heirs are. This can be somewhat difficult. For example, children of a decedent may falsely represent to the Court that they are the only children, when in reality there is a "black sheep" of the family that they are trying to block from receiving an inheritance. Another example is where the children are not even aware that the decedent even had another child, because the decedent kept that fact a secret. It is also possible, where the decedent is a man, that the decedent had another child of which he himself was unaware.
Because of the need to determine who the heirs are and the potential uncertainty and/or unreliability of the known surviving children, the Court must appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the missing or unknown heirs. This attorney has a duty to investigate the family history to determine if there are any other heirs.
Having a Will completely eliminates the need for an heirship proceeding, saving time and money, and acheiving complete control over the probate process. Christiansen Law Firm has significant experience drafting Wills and other estate planning documents to ensure that clients' estate planning is complete. The estate planning attorneys of Christiansen Law Firm can guide you in the decisions to be made and can properly draft the Will and other estate planning documents. Contact the Houston or San Antonio offices of Christiansen Law Firm for additional information about your estate plan.