I’ve written before about some of the pitfalls that can occur if you don’t have an estate plan or a will. Most people, I think, get that, but I’m still surprised by how many people think it doesn’t apply to them. “But I don’t have anything,” they say. “I don’t own a house.” “My stuff is all junk.” “I don’t have kids. Why do I need a will?”
I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually has nothing. Most people who say this to me are wearing jewelry, and when they say this, I ask them who will get their rings. You have clothing, furniture, the stuff in your pockets, the knick-knacks on your shelves, your car, collectibles, dishes, appliances, tools, a lawn mower, and the balance in your bank account, whether it is only a dollar or ten thousand dollars. Whether your stuff is junk or something worthy of Antiques Roadshow, it is still stuff that needs to be dealt with. If nothing else, having a will assigns someone as the designated person to deal with it.
Especially if you don’t have kids or a ‘natural heir’ you need a will. In Georgia, the only state whose laws I claim to know anything about, if you don’t have a will, your surviving spouse will get a third of your estate, and your children will get the remaining two-thirds (or the whole thing if you don’t have a spouse). If you don’t have children and you don’t have a will, then this whole complicated calculation has to happen about your closest surviving relative(s) and your estate may end up going to and/or being handled by someone you’ve never even met or heard of. What happens in other states, I can’t exactly say, though it is probably something similar, if more complicated. Georgia probate tends to be simpler than most other states.
To make it more complicated, let’s say you figure well, I’m a widow, and I have two kids. I want it all to go to my two kids anyway, so why bother having a will, if that’s where it’s going anyway? Here’s a good reason: in your will, you can waive inventory and bond and designate who is in charge. If you don’t do this, your two children may fight over who is in charge. Even if they don’t, they will have to post a bond, which is like an insurance policy saying that they will take care of the assets of the estate, and if they don’t, the bond will cover what they did to squander the assets. In order to get a bond, they have to qualify, which means they have to have good credit, which is a problem or some people. Inventory can be a giant pain in the neck – do you really want your survivors to go into your house and have to account for what is in it? Could you even do that with any kind of certainty?
A simple will is, generally speaking, a simple thing to get, and generally not very expensive. It is usually cheaper to get than the cost of getting around not having it after you’re gone.
My personal opinion is that my job is to make things as easy on the people I leave behind as possible. In theory, if they love me, they will be sad to see me go: I don’t want them to be angry at me, too, for making things complicated when I could have done something simple to make their lives better.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.