We all want to provide for our families. We all also want to ensure our legacy is protected and that our last wishes are respected – both emotionally and legally. The need for this grows as an estate does, to the point where a complex estate with many components – and many heirs – can be quite complicated to resolve after death.
The only thing that comes from a lack of preparation is confusion, which leads to stress, strife, and conflict. One of the best ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen – and that things proceed smoothly after your passing according to your wishes – is to create a Last Will and Testament.
Here are a few of the advantages to having a Last Will and Testament.
You Can Choose Your Executor
The most important person involved in the administration of the estate is the executor or administrator. The executor is the person who has essentially been placed in charge of the estate after your death.
This person has the legal responsibility to resolve and handle all outstanding financial obligations and other responsibilities, which includes anything from paying taxes to distributing property, maintaining property, paying bills, and appearing in court on behalf of the estate.
In the absence of an appointed executor, the court will appoint someone on your behalf. You obviously will have no control over who this is, which means the administration of your estate is out of your hands.
The only way you will be able to personally appoint your executor is to create a Last Will and Testament naming one (ideally two, with one serving as a backup) to the position.
You Control the Distribution of Property
When you die without a Last Will and Testament, the state makes certain assumptions about division of property and how it will be handled. These assumptions are part of Alabama’s laws regarding intestate estates – estates in which there is no Last Will and Testament governing the probate administration. These assumptions in the intestacy laws were made without knowing anything about you, your family, or your particular circumstances.
For many, this is unacceptable. Unfortunately, without a Last Will and Testament, the state will rely on these assumptions when it’s time for probate. This could result in your property being handled in a way that doesn’t suit you or your family, or benefit them.
For example, in Alabama, if you died intestate, leaving your spouse and children, the surviving spouse will inherit the first $50,000 of your property without a will, plus half of the remaining balance of your property’s value. The rest will go to your children. If, for some reason, you want to alter this arrangement, you will need to create a Last Will and Testament that divides the property according to your wishes.
You Can Appoint Guardians for Your Children
Ideally, a father or mother who dies will have the other spouse take care of the children after his or her death. This is not always the case, either because there is no other spouse or the spouse is incapable of caring for children by themselves.
If this unfortunate scenario were to happen, and you don’t have a Last Will and Testament, you wouldn’t be able to control who takes care of your children. The court will decide that issue, not you. With a will, you can appoint a suitable guardian for your children, ensuring that they will be taken care of if something were to happen to you prematurely.
Having a Last Will and Testament isn’t necessary for everyone, but for many people it is a very wise decision – albeit one that should certainly involve the help of a qualified attorney. For larger estates, other estate-planning and tax-planning devices, such as Living Trusts, may be advisable.
For help drafting your Last Will and Testament and planning your estate, please contact the law firm of Wolfe, Jones, Wolfe, Hancock, Daniel & South, LLC.