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A Guide to Protecting Your Family and Your Assets

How would your family be protected if something happened to you? Where are your important documents? Do the people named as guardians of your children know of their responsibility? Could they find and file the Will with the court if both parents were gone? Could they find the money you saved to care for your children? Everyone needs a Will because everyone has an estate, small or large, and everyone has someone to take care of or remember.

What a Will Can Do

  • A Will tells your loved ones who gets your property on your death and names the person who is to be in charge of settling your estate (the executor or the personal representative).

  • You can give specific things to specific people (“I leave my car to my brother”), or be more general (“I give all of my assets to my sister”). You can disinherit anyone except your spouse. You can waive the requirement that the executor posts a bond, and can give the executor the powers he or she needs to take care of your estate without getting the court’s permission. This makes it much cheaper and faster to settle your estate.

  • A Will can name guardians for minor children and disabled dependent adults.

  • A Will can set up trusts to care for family members.

  • A Will can take care of blended families and ensure that your assets go to the family members you intend, and not end up in the hands of the children of your spouse’s next husband or wife.

“What if I Don’t Have a Will?”

  • If you don’t have a Will, you are “intestate.” This means that State law determines how your property is distributed. The distribution is different depending on whether this is the first marriage, whether the children are born of the first marriage, and whether other family members survive.

  • In the event that you don’t have a Will, someone must ask the court to administer your estate. It may not be the person you want and the family may get in a fight over who is to serve as the administrator. The administrator must post a bond equal to the value of your estate plus one year’s income. If the value of the estate is more than $10,000, the company giving you the bond may require that someone else, such as an attorney, a bank, or an accountant, must co-sign every check that is written. Each of these individuals is paid a fee, and is required to examine the expenditure very carefully before giving its consent. In addition, the administrator must get the approval of the court before he or she can sell any property.

  • Where there is no Will, the court will only appoint a resident of your state to administer your estate. If no one in your family resides in your State of residence who is willing to do this, the court appoints the county administrator. If you have a Will, you can name anyone, living anywhere, to serve as your executor.

  • If you die intestate with more than $5.250 million, the IRS may be the beneficiary of a significant portion of your estate. Many of us have far more assets than we think. The values of our homes, life insurance, and pension plans often increase the value of our estates to a much greater amount than we anticipate.

If you don’t have a will, get one from a lawyer in your State. Getting a will form online is a disaster waiting to happen. Remember:

It’s always cheaper to plan than to fix.