A will is a legally binding directive stating who will receive much of your property upon your death. Having a will allows you to appoint a legal representative or executor to carry out your bequests and name a guardian for your children. If you die without one (intestate), the state will distribute your assets and property via state law and quite possibly at odds with your wishes. Thus, a will is an important part of a comprehensive estate plan. However, a will isn't a magic wand that controls everything; you should be aware of some limitations.
By necessity, a will must go through the probate process in order to allow beneficiaries to inherit property that requires a change in title. Depending on the state and county, it can take months to get through probate, and it usually involves expenses like fees for an attorney and court costs. Also, your will and everything associated with it (property you own as listed in an inventory, who your beneficiaries are, etc.) likely become part of the public record that anyone can access.
The reality is your funeral may have already taken place before someone finds and reads your will, which can take day or even weeks. If your funeral or memorial service is important to you, the best way to help your family is to pre-plan, making arrangements with a funeral home. You can leave written instructions with the family as to your plans. In most McCreary Law Office plans, you are provided a worksheet to guide you in this planning, and you'll designate the person who will be in charge of handling the arrangements and making decisions.
An animal is legally unable to inherit money or property from you. If you want your pets to be cared for after you die, leave money to a person willing to take care of your animals. The person you select can inherit your pets since a pet is considered property. You can also set up a pet trust or a pet protection agreement, either of which provides for your pet's care.
It is best to create a special needs trust to provide for a child with special needs or a child who is receiving government benefits. The trust can hold money for your child’s care without affecting those benefits.
There are ways to circumvent the limitations of a will by creating trusts, setting up pay-on-death accounts, and ensuring a beneficiary is named on all accounts that permit them. Your will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, but it can't do everything.
I would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of having a will and other options available to you as part of your overall estate plan. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600.
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