If you are one of the 64% of Americans who do not have a will, you are in the good company of Prince as well as Sonny Bono, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, dying without a will can create a mess for your heirs.
When Prince Rogers Nelson, who we all knew simply as Prince, died in April 2016 at the age of 57, he passed without a will that would have expressed his wishes for the distribution of his estate, estimated to be $300 million. While you may not have the size of your estate in common with Prince, dying without a will can be just as problematic for your heirs as it is for his.
Why is a will important?
A will is a legal document that communicates your wishes pertaining to the disposition of your property, care of dependents, and payment of final expenses. It also enables you to appoint an individual, referred to as a personal representative or executor, to carry out those wishes.
Your will allows you to name individuals as well as charities to receive all or any portion of your assets. A will is also your only opportunity to appoint a guardian for your children and/or incorporate a trust, if necessary, to manage any financial assets for their benefit. You can include special provisions to cover almost any situation, even the care of your pets.
Generally, any person over the age of 18 years who is of “sound mind and body” can write a will. This is not a permanent pronouncement! A will document can be revised or totally rewritten at any time, unless the person has become mentally incompetent.
So, why do 64% of Americans not have a will? Many people incorrectly believe they don’t need one; are concerned about the costs; can’t get around to getting it done; or simply want to avoid thinking about their own demise.
What if you die without a will?
The legal term for passing without a will is “dying intestate”. If this is your situation, your assets will pass according to the laws of the State in which you reside. In addition, the court will have the responsibility to name your personal representative and to appoint a guardian for any minor-aged children.
If you are an Indiana resident, your assets will be distributed based on your family situation as noted below:
- Married without children: If you are married with no children and your parents are deceased, your spouse inherits everything. If your parent(s) are living, one-fourth of your estate goes to your parent(s) with remaining to your spouse.
- Married with children: If you are married with children, one-half goes to your spouse and one-half is divided among your children. If you are married with a child(ren) from a prior relationship, your spouse would inherit one-half of your personal property and one-fourth of your real estate with the rest going to your child(ren). If you have stepchildren, but do not officially adopt them, they would be excluded from any inheritance.
- Single with children: If you are single and have children, your children would inherit everything.
- Single without children: If you are single and have no children, your parent(s) inherit everything. If your parents are both deceased, your siblings divide your assets equally. Same situation, but no siblings survive you, whoever is considered your next of kin would inherit your assets. Only if you die without any surviving family members would the State receive your assets.
If by choice or by happenstance, you die without a will, the distribution of your assets is outside of your control. No friends or favorite charities could receive anything. The future care and financial situation of your children is left for others to determine. If you have a large estate, no special provisions can be included to minimize tax.
Need a will? How do you get started?
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, there are websites that provide templates for creating your own will. The more traditional method is to work with an estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice in your state of residence. This ensures your document meets the requirements of State law to be a valid will. If you create your own will, it would be advisable to have it reviewed by an attorney.
If you haven’t done so already, write a will. If you have a will, review it every five years or whenever your family or financial situation changes. It’s your opportunity to express your wishes instead of leaving such an important matter to others.