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Gainesville, FL Estate Planning, Will & Trust Law Blog

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Do You Really Need a Will?

Do you really need a will?
You May Not Think You Need a Will, But You Really Do.


It’s hard to believe, but most Americans do not have even a simple will. A common misunderstanding is that a will is only for the rich and famous, and not the average person with modest assets. It is also a common misunderstanding that a will is entirely unnecessary when assets are jointly owned or consist of life insurance policies or retirement accounts that pass by beneficiary designation. 


Wrong on both counts. Yes, you do really need a will. In fact, everyone who owns anything - no matter how little value it may seem to have - should have a will. A will allows you to specify, in detail, who will receive your assets at your death, under what circumstances or conditions, and who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes. Passing away without a will or estate plan in place - referred to as intestacy – places your assets in the control and your state’s laws governing the disposition of your assets after your death.


As a practical matter, the simpler your affairs are - typically, the fewer assets you own - the less complicated your will and overall estate plan is going to be. However, it does not take much to complicate your estate and there are many other considerations besides your assets. For example, if you have minor children your will must name a guardian for those children in the event of your death. Likewise, if you have a relative who is disabled, elderly or without the financial sophistication to manage your assets after your death, a will allows you to name someone to watch over these assets in a special needs or supplemental needs trust. These are just two examples of the many possibilities that may apply to you which add an extra layer of complexity to your estate plan.


Yes, assets that have beneficiary designations such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, or assets that are jointly titled or will transfer/pay-on-death will not be controlled by a will. but that’s not the whole story. What if your joint account holder or your pay-on-death beneficiary passes away before you do? While it is true that those designations will often ensure the people you choose will receive benefits or inherit those assets, consider your other assets. Your tangible personal property and important items such as family heirlooms or jewelry still need to be taken care of as well. 


Logistically, someone needs to collect your assets and distribute them as you desire. That person, a personal representative, needs to be appointed in your will in order to (among other things) collect your assets, make sure taxes and other obligations are satisfied, provide notice to beneficiaries and potential creditors, distribute those assets, and close your estate. If you do not name a personal representative in your will, the court will appoint an executor for you under your state’s laws. If you leave it up to the court, that important position may be filled by a person who you would rather not be responsible for your estate.


Do yourself and your family a favor: make an appointment with a qualified estate planning lawyer today.

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From our office in Gainesville, the estate planning firm of White & Crouch, P.A. advises and represents clients in communities throughout Alachua County, Marion County, Levy County, Putnam County, Clay County, Bradford County, Union County and Gilchrist County in North Central Florida. Call us at 352-372-1011 or contact the firm by email to arrange an initial consultation with us today.

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