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9 Reasons You Need a Will
We all know we “should” have a will. But why, exactly? Here are 9 good reasons to have a will.
1 To Maintain Good Family Relations After You Die
The main reason to have a will is for your family. After you pass, what happens to your assets won’t matter to you, but it will matter a lot to those who survive you. Many families have been torn apart by squabbles over an estate. Family members may spend years in court, and untold money, to get what they think they’re due. Meanwhile, those relationships fall apart. This doesn’t just happen after the death of people with large estates, but those with modest estates, too. A clear, current will can prevent many of these squabbles from happening in the first place and maintain the peace.
In short, you don’t get a will for yourself. You do it for your family.
2 To Ensure Your Assets Go to a Particular Individual
The primary purpose of a will is to determine where your assets will go after your death. If you don’t decide, and die intestate (i.e., without a will), the state will decide for you. In South Carolina, if you die without a will, your assets that are subject to probate will pass to your children, your spouse, your parents, and/or your siblings, depending on your family situation. You may not want your assets to go where the state wants them to go. Having a will lets you decide.
3 To Prevent Your Assets from Going to a Particular Individual
Just as your will allows you to ensure assets are going to the individuals you want them to go to, it also allows you to keep assets from individuals you don’t want to inherit anything through your will.
There may be several reasons for doing this. Perhaps you choose not to leave anything to an individual in your will because they’ll receive other assets directly outside of your will, such as life insurance payouts, pensions, retirement accounts, real property held as joint tenancy with right of survivorship, and assets held in trust of which they are the beneficiary.
Perhaps you and your spouse have mutually agreed to leave all of your property to your children rather than each other, especially if this is not your first marriage and there are children from previous partners. (Read more about estate planning in “Brady Bunch Marriages” here.)
Other times, you may choose to disinherit a child or other dependent because of strained familial relations. This is your choice, and a legally binding document will help ensure your wishes are carried out after your death.
4 To Make One Last Donation
So far, we’ve considered how a will can help you divide assets among surviving family members. But a will allows you to leave assets to organizations, too. If you’ve supported a particular cause, charity, or church during your lifetime, you can use your will to leave one final gift. (And depending on the size of your estate, a qualified donation can help reduce taxes, too.)
5 To Appoint a Guardian of Your Minor Children
If you’re the parent of a minor child, you should have a will in order to name your child’s guardian. This is the person who would take physical custody and care of your child after you die. (This assumes that there’s not another parent who would take custody.) If you don’t decide, then the state will, and it may choose someone you don’t want raising your child.
6 To Choose Your Executor
Similarly, the court will appoint an executor or personal representative to administer your estate after you die if you don’t name one in your will. You want to choose someone competent, trustworthy, and fair to settle your estate. It’s also a smart idea to speak with this person first to get their agreement, and to list alternatives in case your first choice is unavailable or declines the position after you’re gone.
7 To Speed Up the Process
Having a will can shorten the time it takes to settle your estate for the simple fact that it’s clear what should happen to your assets. Dying without a will invites family arguments over who should get what, and these arguments can last years and ruin relationship. (See #1.)
8 To Avoid Probate Altogether
What if all your assets are in trusts, so that when you die you have no assets to your name that are subject to probate? You should still have a will, specifically what’s known as a “pour-over will.” This dictates that any assets that are not in trust at the time of your death are to be distributed to the trust. If you don’t have a pour-over will, the assets still in your name when you die that are subject to probate will go through probate.
Learn more about the probate process here in South Carolina.
9 To Minimize Estate Taxes
Smart estate planning can reduce your estate taxes. However, this is not a big concern for most people. The only people who need to take into account estate taxes when drawing up a will are people with very large estates (worth over $11,180,000, as of 2018, or double that for married couples) and people in states that impose estate tax.
If you’re in this situation, you may want more than a simple will, and should speak with an estate planning attorney about your options.
Draft or Review Your Will with Mt. Pleasant Estate Planning Attorney Gem McDowell
If you don’t have a will, hopefully the nine reasons above convinced you that you need one. Call Gem McDowell at his Mt. Pleasant office to schedule a free consultation so you can get started on your estate plan right away. Gem has over 25 years of experience in estate planning, and he’s helped individuals with estates large and small with the planning they need. Call (843) 284-1021 or use this contact form to get in touch today.