Your favorite charity may be reaching out to you this month, because August is “Make a Will Month,” and if you want to leave something to that favorite charity at your death, it won’t happen without some advance planning. Most often this means executing a Will that includes a gift to the charity. Even if you’re not charitably inclined you should have a Will. Otherwise, State law governs how your property passes at death, and this is probably not in the manner that you would choose.
For example, in many states including Maryland and D.C., if you’re married and die without a Will, your estate is divided between your spouse and children. If you don’t have descendants, your estate may be divided between your spouse and parents. The shares they receive varies depending upon the circumstances, but is that what you, not to mention what your spouse, wants?
If you’re not married and don’t have descendants, it gets more complicated. Depending on who survives you, your estate could pass to your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles or cousins. Do you want your estate to pass to cousins you haven’t seen since you were 10?
A Will can do more than simply divide your property. If you have minor children, you can designate a guardian for them in your Will. If you haven’t named a guardian, the court will choose the guardian. This often pits aunts, uncles, and grandparents against one another. This isn’t what you want for your children.
And not to be overlooked, you designate the person who will administer your estate, your Personal Representative in your Will. Your Personal Representative will have access to all your accounts, records, and personal property, such as mementos, computers, and photographs. Your Personal Representative will pay your debts and divide your property among your heirs. If you don’t have a Will, the court will choose your Personal Representative. In Maryland and D.C. your surviving spouse and children are equally eligible to serve as Personal Representative. Neither has priority. This can get tricky if your spouse and children don’t get along. If you’re not married and don’t have children, your Personal Representative could be a parent, sibling or cousin. Who do you want combing through your property?
Need a Will? We can help.
By: Anne S. Quinn