Wills Are For Everyone

Wills Are For Everyone

By Mark T. Coulter, Esquire
Estate Planning Attorney

Far too many people fail to have a legally signed Will as a part of their life. If you take even a moment to research the field, you’ll see there is universal agreement among not just planning attorneys, but in the fields of insurance, law, finances, parenting, and many others, that a Will is something which everyone needs.

If you don’t have a Will for some reason, then you have no control over what happens after you die. The state where you life will take control of deciding who gets your property, but their method is not based upon what you would want, or even what your beneficiaries need, but instead simply the mechanical processing of a statutory scheme. In Pennsylvania, when you die without a will (i.e. intestate, or intestacy), the statute kicks in and gives your assets as follows:

  • If you don’t have kids, it goes to your spouse and your parents to split roughly equally.
  • If you have kids, then the kids get about half, and your spouse and parents split the rest
  • If neither of the above applies, then the statute turn to your siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the like, roughly in that order, to give your assets away. If there isn’t family in this lineal tree, then the state gets it. Under the Pennsylvania laws of intestacy, there is no provision for charity, friends, life partners or other associates, and no provision for handling the property in any unique, special or useful fashion. Your estate will be overseen by a person selected by the court to be your administrator, and they will be paid by the court from your assets for their services.

Thus, even a recently married couple without children needs a Will. Otherwise, if one of them dies, then half of your property goes to the surviving parents of the deceased spouse. Is that what you really intend? For an unmarried couple, then the survivor has no claim at all without a Will.

What you own isn’t really important to the question of whether you should have a Will, because how much you have is irrelevant. The purpose of the Will is to give you control, rather than the state, over what is to happen to whatever property or assets you do have.

If you are a parent of young children, then a Will provides the opportunity for you to propose a guardian for your minor children in the event that both parents are dead or unable to parent. Absent information from you, the court will have to determine who to appoint as your children’s guardian, taking into account the factors important to the court, which may not be of the same importance to you, and weighing those factors in its own way, not in the manner you would. You know your kids, and who is best to care for them. Use the power of your will to appoint a guardian in the event tragedy takes you away from them.

Your age doesn’t decide if you need a Will either. While an older person is more likely to pass in a given year than a younger person, the final fate strikes all of us on its own schedule. About 250,000 people under the age of 50, and over half of them under the age of 40, died in the United States last year. Do you imagine they all believed that their time was near? You don’t want to try to play the odds in timing when to prepare a Will. The responsible decision is to just go ahead and do it now.

So, if you are one of the few people who doesn’t care who gets their assets when they die, who takes care of their children, who takes responsibility for handling post-death affairs, and how their life’s belongings are distributed among their friends, families or charitable interests, then maybe you don’t need a Will. Otherwise, Wills are for everyone.

About Our Law Office

At the Estate Planning Centers at Coulter & May, P.C., we devote our practice to estate planning and assisting families through such transition times with estate and trust administration counseling. We offer guidance and advice to our clients in every area of estate planning, and offer comprehensive and personalized estate planning consultations. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar or to book a consultation directly, please contact us at (412) 253-7526 or visit us online at www.estateplanningcenters.com.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is a conversational summary of a complex area of law and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. No person should rely upon the content of this article for making any decisions, and should instead consult with appropriate legal and tax professionals.