If you die without a Will, your state has a “default” setting as to who will get what, and who can apply to be the administrator to wrap up your affairs. The difficulty with these one size fits all laws is that they only go so far. In the world of Ozzie and Harriet or the Brady Bunch, there would be no problems. But in the real world, family dynamics can add acrimony and expense to the process. Here’s what can happen:
- Mom, with three grown children, survives her husband and dies without a Will. Although Mom’s three children will share equally, they don’t get along. They can’t agree on who will be the administrator without a costly court battle. Mom knew Kid 1 had drug issues, Kid 2 had debt problems and Kid 3 should be the executor. But she didn’t write a will. What will happen? Kid 1 is stealing stuff from the house, Kid 2 has found a way to Mom’s accounts and Kid 3 will be screwed.
- A husband leaves behind a $550,000 estate, a 70 year old wife, two grown sons and no Will. The husband thought his wife would inherit all the money, and then leave it to their children when she dies. Instead, under the state law, the spouse gets half and the kids get half. The spouse cannot afford to stay in the family home and the sons will inherit $125,000 each.
- A single person has lived with his significant other for over 10 years. They live in a home with title only in the name of the person who has died (the “decedent.”) The decedent was an only child, survived by his mother, who he hasn’t spoken to in years. Unless specified, the mother inherits his entire estate. A Will ensures that doesn’t happen.
- A single parent passes away without a Will, leaving behind an 8-year-old child. Her two siblings vie for custody of the child. One legitimately cares for the child, the other only seeks the trust funds promised as the child’s guardian. Heartbreaking, but it can happen.
Let’s be honest with each other: no one enjoys writing a Will. It involves accepting your own mortality. Who wants to do busy work on something that involves one of the most depressing things we can think of? But that’s why –in reality –a Will isn’t about you. It’s about the people you love. Writing a Will is walking that unpleasant Green Mile for their sake, making sure the right people are cared for and not adding ugly legal battles on top of losing you.