When people die without a will, the fate of their personal effects, including any financial assets as well as their personal belongings and effects, may be in jeopardy. Families can often attempt to process the deep grief and loss they feel over the death of a loved one through squabbling over the deceased's effects, but loved ones who are not legally entitled to a share of the proceeds may be left out of the mix. Individuals who pass away without a will may be subject to inadvertently disbursing much of their personal means in ways they might not have wished. A will is thus a protective mechanism for all concerned, and it can salvage the value of the deceased's personal effects and financial wealth to be routed to those for whom it was originally intended. A will can also reduce the amount of strife and conflict loved ones may otherwise encounter while trying to manage and close out their loved one's final affairs. Learn more about what happens to someone's belongings when they die and decide whether it is the right time to add will planning to the agenda for yourself or someone you love.
If someone dies and does not have a will, then the estate is declared to be in the category of an "intestacy." This term means that the deceased has not made arrangements to dispose of their own belongings, and that now an estate manager must be deputized to distribute the estate according to the laws that govern the state in which the deceased resided. This also means that those laws may not reflect the actual wishes of the deceased, and there may be much time and expense associated with disposing of the estate's assets or debts that could otherwise have been avoided. This is why estate planning experts urge every individual to prepare a will and keep it updated in the event untimely death occurs. Generally speaking, most states will distribute estate proceeds first to a surviving legal spouse and children, but there may be conflicts when there is a common law or same gender spouse involved, or when both a spouse and an ex-spouse survive the deceased, or when difficulty is encountered in locating kin. Other difficulties are also common, which is why, if a loved one does pass and a will cannot be located, surviving loved ones must be prepared for a longer than average period of time before the deceased's estate can be properly and legally settled.
Estate planning experts recommend beginning your will planning by making a list of all personal assets and debts, including property, material possessions, and investments. Next, assemble pertinent contact information for all family members who stand to benefit from your will. If children are involved, designate a guardian who will oversee their portion of the estate as well as their own wellbeing and continued care. Also do not forget to set out care and guardianship for pets. If you wish to leave certain possessions to certain family members, make a list of those as well. Choose an estate executor, and an alternate estate executor should the first one prove unwilling or unable. As best as possible, estimate the value of your estate at time of death and use this to prepare bequeathments in your formal will.
Many individuals choose to enlist the help of a lawyer or estate planning professional when preparing their will. Especially for more complex estates, it can be wise to have the assistance of an estate planning professional to be sure that all necessary elements of proper will planning are accounted for. It is also possible to prepare your own will and there are a number of online resources that can assist you. However, a lawyer or estate planning professional will likely be needed to assist with drafting a will that takes into account certain state provisions that may otherwise render your will invalid, such as laws regarding how personal property can be disposed of, who can or cannot receive a share in certain assets, how to attend to funeral preferences, which belong elsewhere than in a will, and completely disinheriting a spouse or family member who will be considered to be legally eligible to share in the proceeds of the estate. All of these beginner mistakes can delay the disposal of the estate, and can cause the estate assets to be tied up in expensive probate costs while the assets are properly sorted out.