Dying without a will (or “intestate”) means your estate assets will pass to your heirs, according to the intestacy laws of the state. Under the state’s intestacy provisions, if your spouse is alive, and you had no children (with any person), your assets will pass to your spouse. In many states, if you had children, your surviving spouse would get half of the assets of the estate, and the other half would be divided equally among your children. If you didn’t have surviving spouse, your children would share equally in the estate.
The Aiken (SC) Standard’s recent article entitled “Avoiding mistakes with your will” says that a critical point to remember is that only your spouse must survive in order to be an heir. Typically, if one of your children had died, their children would get their share.
Every state has specific requirements for what constitutes a legal will. For example, in Iowa, a will has these requirements
- It must be in writing;
- The maker of the will (the testator) must be of sound mind;
- The maker of the will cannot be a minor; and
- The will must be witnessed by two witnesses who were present when the testator signed the will and who also witnessed each other sign the document.
The witnesses cannot receive any distributions under the terms of the will.
Because a will is so critical, you should employ the services of a qualified estate planning attorney. If you and your spouse already have a will prepared, it is important that these documents be reviewed periodically to make certain that your instructions are up to date and that your will recognizes any changes that have occurred in either federal or state law.
People frequently forget about including certain assets in their wills, like special collections of memorabilia or other treasures.
Be sure that you designate an executor to serve in this capacity who is well-organized, calm and willing. You should typically name a person who’s younger than you and also name an alternate executor, in case your primary choice is unable to serve.
If you have any minor children, you should name a guardian for those children. You can divide the duties of a guardian, by naming a different guardian to handle the children’s financial affairs and one who provides care for your children.
After your will is drafted, be certain you tell your family where it’s kept, and be sure that your will is synchronized with other documents – like your life insurance policies or retirement accounts that will pass directly to beneficiaries named in those documents regardless of what your will says.
For more information about what you shouldn’t do when creating a will, check out our blog post “High Five: Mistakes with DIY Wills.”
Reference: Aiken (SC) Standard )(March 22, 2020) “Avoiding mistakes with your will”