What Are Wills… and Why Should You Care?
A Will (also known as a Last Will and Testament) is an absolutely essential legal document that enables you to control how your estate will be handled after you die. With a properly drafted Will, you can do the following:
- Decide who gets what. The most common and simple reason people have wills is to decide how their property will be split up after they die. Perhaps you want to leave everything to one person, or maybe you want to provide for multiple heirs or even your favorite charity. The possibilities are endless, as long as your will provides clear direction about what you want to happen.
- Name an executor of your choosing. In your Will, you can designate someone you trust to handle gathering the assets in your estate, paying your debts, and making distributions to your heirs (this person is called the Executor or Personal Representative). Without a will, a court will appoint someone to do this job – and it might not be the person you would have chosen.
- Name a guardian to take care of your children. A will is the only universally-accepted place to nominate a guardian to care for your children. If you die without a will, a judge who doesn’t know you or your family will decide who should care for your kids.
- Name a trustee to manage your children’s property. If you don’t appoint someone to manage your children’s inherited property in a legally-recognized document, a court will appoint a trustee to take charge of the property until they reach adulthood. This process will take time and money, and the person appointed might not be who you would have chosen (it could even be a stranger).
- Provide a caretaker for your pet. You can use your will to name a trusted caretaker for your pet. You can also leave money to that person to help him or her care for your pet.
- Provide a “catch-all” or backup plan for property that isn’t covered by other estate planning. A will can provide an important catch-all for any property that isn’t covered by your beneficiary designations, living trust or other estate planning devices. For example, if you create a living trust and forget to transfer property into your living trust, or you fail to transfer property acquired after the trust is created, then your Will can make sure that property is handled properly.
Discuss Your Questions About Wills With Attorney Jennifer Walker
If you don’t have a Will, Pennsylvania law will control what happens to your property, and it’s safe say that the result will probably not be what you would have expected – or wanted. So it’s important to make sure your wishes are spelled out in a legally valid document.
If there is any possibility that a beneficiary or family member may challenge the terms or the validity of your Will, it is vitally important that you work with a qualified attorney who can draft it in a way that will withstand a potential legal challenge.