The importance of a will. Yes, you need one.

As lawyers, we often find ourselves being asked legal questions outside of office hours.  A common question we receive is, “I don’t really need a will, do I?”.  The short answer to that question is yes, yes you do.  For those asking what a will is – a will is a written document that outlines a number of important wishes, including how you would like your estate to be distributed, upon your death – and if you have minor children, who will take care of them.

Most react to the answer that, yes, yes you do need a will with – “there is a law that will handle it for me”, or that “I’ll be dead, what do I care”.  So why?  There are countless reasons, but here are our top five reasons:

First, a will protects your children.  As parents ourselves, our number one priority is our children.  If you have minor children, a will allows you to name who will raise your children in the event something happens to you and your child’s other parent.  If you do not, your estate will have to pay while a guardian ad litem and the courts decide. A will can also allow you to delay when a minor child will inherit your assets.  If something happens to you and your child’s parent, a will and associated documents can let you delay when your children will have control of your estate – so if you don’t want your 18 year old to have control of your entire estate – and perhaps want to wait until they are 21, 25, out of college – a will (and possibly a trust) and other associated documents can achieve this for you.

Second, a will allows you choose who your assets go to.  If you do not put down what your wishes are, intestate law kicks in – and the Code of Virginia will dictate how your assets will be distributed.  This is especially important in the case where your spouse has had children with someone else or you are no longer in contact with one or more of your children.

Third, time.  When you have your wishes spelled out, distribution can occur faster.  You only have to look at the news to see how the estate of Prince who passed over two years ago and has yet to distribute any assets to beneficiaries continues to be delayed.  There is no timeline for distribution.  In addition, Aretha Franklin’s estimated $80 million estate has yet to be split amongst her surviving children, one of whom has special needs.

Fourth, cost.  Wills are important documents.  They cost money.  However, they will never cost more than what they can save you.  As mentioned before – if you do not name someone to take legal guardianship of your children, you will have to pay the Commonwealth to do so.  If you do not name who will be in control of your minor child’s finances – you will pay the Commonwealth to do that.  If you do not have a will, the Commonwealth will require that your family post a bond in order to administer your estate and may require additional documentation that can be avoided with a will. In addition, there are certain assets that you may not want to pass via your estate. That is when proper estate planning becomes important.

Fifth, peace of mind.  We can say from personal experience that we had an immense sense of relief once our documents were put in place.  We know that our kids are going to be taken care of by people that love them and have the same morals and parenting style that we do.  We also know that our kids will not get the money at 18 and potentially blow most of it (like we would have).  And, finally, we know that we have put something in place that will make it easier for our loved ones to handle our estate if something were to happen.

While planning for after your own death can be a daunting task, the potential savings, both monetary and emotional far outweigh the drawbacks of creating a will. If you have questions about drafting a will or estate planning, please contact the estate law attorneys at Winslow & McCurry, PLLC at (804) 423-1382.