A Customized Will is a Core Component of a Comprehensive Estate Plan

A will is a traditional estate planning tool that can serve a variety of different purposes. Although trusts and other planning documents offer benefits that make them preferable to wills in many respects, the will remains a fundamental component of almost any sound and comprehensive estate plan.

What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

In order to understand the benefits of having a will, it is helpful to understand what happens if you die without one. In both Ohio and Kentucky, dying without a will means that your entire estate is subject to probate. Probate is the formal, court-supervised process for winding up a person’s final affairs; and, not only can it be time-consuming and expensive, but it can also lead to disputes among family members who disagree about what to do with the decedent’s estate.

Dying without a will also means that the laws of intestate succession will determine which of your family members are entitled to a portion of your estate. However, these laws do not answer the question of “who gets what.” This is another factor that increases the chances of informal disputes and litigation; and, for many people, it is one of the primary reasons for putting an estate plan in place.

Three Primary Functions of a Will

With these considerations in mind, for most people, incorporating a will into their estate plan serves three primary functions:

1. Appoint a Personal Representative for Your Estate

The person responsible for winding up your final affairs is referred to as your “personal representative,” and you can designate an executor or personal representative in your will. If you fail to do so, an administrator or personal representative will need to be appointed through the probate process, and this alone can lead to delays and disputes. When appointing an executor or personal representative, it is generally a good idea to identify a contingency, or “backup” executor or personal representative as well, just in case your primary choice is unavailable or unwilling to serve in the role.

2. Avoid Probate (and All That it Entails)

Keeping your assets out of probate streamlines the estate administration process and reduces the risk of disputes among heirs and beneficiaries. While assets devised through a will are subject to probate, it is possible to include “pour over” provisions in a will that place all assets into a designated trust at the time of death. We frequently prepare estate plans that use revocable and irrevocable trusts as the primary tools for distributing assets and mitigating tax liability.

3. Appoint a Guardian for Your Minor Children

For parents with minor children, preparing a will also allows for the appointment of a guardian of their choosing. Similar to an executor or personal representative, if you do not appoint a guardian in your will, one will be appointed for you through the probate process. For obvious reasons, probate proceedings involving guardian appointments are often contested, and naming a guardian in your will is a safe and easy way to make sure your children will be raised by the person or couple of your choosing.

Contact Us to Learn More

For more information about incorporating a will into your estate plan, or to discuss the estate planning process in general, please contact us to schedule an initial consultation. To speak with Attorney Jim Singler in confidence, call 513-486-0000 or inquire online today.