Whether you know it or not, you already have a will. It's just a question of who wrote it – you or the State? Unless you've had a will done yourself, the state legislature has already written one for you in probate law. Here's what the State's will provides:
- Anyone interested in your estate or its affairs can be appointed as administrator. That could be your spouse or child, which is fine unless your relationship was on bad terms and you wouldn't want them involved. Even complete strangers can be put in charge of your estate, such as someone you owe money to.
- After all your bills and the costs of probate have been paid, at least half of your estate will go to your spouse. If you have children from a previous relationship, then your spouse will get half of your estate, and your children (all of them) will share the other half. Any step-children you have will not be included in the distribution. If you have only had children with your spouse, your entire estate will go to your spouse.
- You have no opportunity to reduce your spouse's share or to disinherit a child. There may be good reasons (other than bad relationships) for making these kinds of choices.
- Charities and persons other than a spouse or heirs are left out, no matter how strongly you would have wished them to have something.
Creating a last will and testament obviously gives you a chance to make different choices than what the legislature thought were best. In my experience, many people write a will that is similar to the pattern laid down by state law. However, writing a will involves a broader conversation with an attorney about related choices on how to title your assets to pass without probate, making sure that beneficiary designations on life insurance and retirement plans are appropriate, and providing for special situations. In addition, you will have an opportunity to take care of other low-cost planning measures, such as powers of attorney. These measures will ensure that your affairs are handled if you become disabled before death. Even if don't have significant wealth or property holdings, having a will usually creates more peace of mind for yourself and those you leave behind. And, having an opportunity to discuss your estate-planning helps identify and address a broad range of related issues that can provide high value for the time and money invested.