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Don't Die without a Will

Up to 70% of people in the U.S. die without a will.  That's not good.  Here are my top 6 reasons you should have a will.

A will allows you to:

1.   Pick the person(s) who will raise your children.  You can appoint a guardian of your minor children in your will.  If you don't pick one, the courts will pick one for you.  If a court action is required, the first person to come forward might not be whom you would choose.  Perhaps worse, several people may come forward, creating a custody battle over your children who are already dealing with the trauma of having lost a parent (or both parents).

2.   Decide how and when your property is distributed.  A will allows you to decide who gets your property and when they get it.  If you don't spell this out, the courts will pick your beneficiaries for you and the amounts they will receive.  Laws change over time, and the court will apply the law in effect on the date you die, which could be different than the laws written today.

3.   Pick the person to handle your affairs when you're gone.  You can handpick an "executor" in your will and give that person the authority he or she needs to take care of things the way you want.  If you don't name an executor, the court will select a person for you.  Importantly, however, the person the court picks (called an "administrator") is given less authority than your executor (see number 5 below) and could even be one of your creditors!

4.   Avoid the need for a guardian of the property for any minor children.  Children under 18 can't legally receive property directly.  If a minor is entitled to an inheritance, the court will need to appoint a "guardian of the property" who will handle those assets for the minor until he or she reaches 18.  Writing a will can help you avoid this by picking a "trustee" to manage those assets for the minor in a simple trust created by your will that takes effect at your death.  You pick the trustee (someone you know and trust), and you pick the age at which the trust terminates (which can be greater than 18 of you wish).

5.   Authorize your executor to sell real estate.  Real estate is often the largest asset you own at death.  In your will, you can give your executor the power to sell real estate and distribute the proceeds to the beneficiaries of your choosing.  The "administrator" whom a court will appoint if you don't have a will does not have the power to sell real estate.  When a person dies without a will, any real estate owned by that person goes to his or her "heirs at law."  This means that, if a person's heirs turn out to be five siblings, all five receive an equal and undivided interest in the real estate at your death.  So, all five siblings will need to agree on how to handle that real estate or deal with an expensive and probably acrimonious partition suit in court.  Have five siblings ever agreed on anything?

5.   Minimize family fights.  If you don't spell out your wishes in your will, the courts will need to get involved.  When the courts get involved, people hire lawyers.  When lawyers get involved, things can get complicated, expensive, and often heated.  Family dynamics can turn on a dime when money is involved!  Writing a will is a good way to avoid this type of infighting.

6.   Leave a legacy.  You can use a will to make charitable gifts and leave a lasting legacy.  Do you want to fund a scholarship for your alma mater or leave a meaningful gift to your place of worship?  You can do that in a will.  The laws that kick in if you die without a will don't include charities.  In fact, the laws currently on the books say that, if the courts can't find a beneficiary for you, the Commonwealth of Virginia gets your estate.  After paying taxes all of your life, is that what you want to happen?

There are more reasons you should have a will, but these are my top 6.  Don't put this planning off any longer.  We can help get this off your "to do" list and help you make some very important decisions right now.  Call us at 804-658-3873 or email us at info@golightlylaw.com today to get started.



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