Why Everyone Needs a Will
Updated: Aug 20, 2018
First of all, a quick disclaimer. Believe it or not, this post is not a scare tactic by some attorney trying to cook up some business by taking advantage of unassuming web perusers. In fact, I will be the first to admit that even I, an estate planning and probate attorney, dragged my feet for several years before executing my first will. I had all the knowledge, resources, and motivation at my fingertips, but for whatever reason, I still couldn't bring myself to do it. If that sounds anything like your current situation, I am not here to wag my finger in an attempt to scare/shame/guilt-trip you into hiring me. To do so would be unfair and hypocritical on my part. Just think of this post as a sort of pros and cons list for having a will (heavy on the pros). My goal here is simply to inform you of what a will accomplishes and hopefully nudge you in the right direction. Here are a few reasons why everyone needs a valid will.
1. Stress Reliever
Most people without wills reason their estate does not merit the need. The state laws are just fine, they say. Maybe, maybe not, but the fact is most people don't know exactly what those laws are. Even if you go out and do the research, nobody will know exactly who your legal heirs are until you pass away and a Court applies the intestacy rules of the Texas Estates Code to your then-surviving heirs. Just because you decide you are ok with the Estates Code's breakdown today, that does not necessarily mean you will be tomorrow, 10 years, or 50 years from now. This reality can also be hard on your family trying to settle your affairs. People may be uncertain what their interests are, or they may feel upset that an individual undeserving in their eyes is legally entitled to your estate. Unclear situations often breed fear, anger, and resentment in an otherwise happy family. Sometimes intestate procedures can even risk leaving people out, either on accident or on purpose. A valid will alleviates all these potential stressers by clearly indicating to both you and your family exactly how your estate will be distributed.
2. It is Cost Effective
Whether your bank account contains several commas, or you are living paycheck to paycheck, money is money, and dying without a will can cost your family more of it. For one thing, intestate procedures generally involve more Court costs and legal fees, not to mention time. Second, the uncertainty of intestacy often results in conflict, which unfailingly results in more legal fees. A valid will reduces statutory fees associated with probate and greatly reduces the number of issues to fight about. The fees associated with drafting and executing a valid will are generally less expensive than an intestate procedure, and a will can save your family time and stress.
3. It May be the Difference Between Something and Nothing
A valid will is sometimes the difference between your family walking away with something or nothing at all. Consider a recent example of an individual who's family member passed away unexpectedly without a will. The decedent had a very modest estate consisting of a few thousand dollars in a savings account. She also owed money to several creditors. Her family was unsure what her estate consisted of, and wasn't sure probate was worth the cost. They had already gone out of pocket several thousand dollars for funeral expenses, and they were not interested in paying several thousand more to probate a mystery estate. Luckily, they chose probate, and ended up being reimbursed for the funeral costs. The main point, however, is that a valid will can help identify assets and reduce fees. In the eyes of a family wary of costs and unsure of the estate's contents, these factors can ultimately determine whether your family probates your estate and walks away with anything at all.
4. A Will Results in More Privacy and Less Intrusiveness For You and Your Family
Right off the bat, an intestate procedure will include the appointment of an attorney ad litem. This is an unbiased third party who determines that the Estates Code is applied correctly and no parties are left out of the proceeding. Most people don't realize this, but if you die without a will, a stranger will be calling your family and friends to ask very uncomfortable questions. "How many times was he/she married?"; "Did he/she have children out of wedlock?'; "Could there have been other spouses or children you don't know about?"; or perhaps the most uncomfortable situation: "Were you aware that your family member had another family nobody knew about?" Nobody is trying to be rude by inquiring into such matters. It is simply a legal requirement in order to probate an estate without a will.
Furthermore, estates in Texas can be independent or dependent. Representatives can serve with bond or without bond. These distinctions determine how freely and quickly the estate's representative can dispose of your property and settle your affairs. A will can specifically state you want your Executor/Executrix to serve independently, without bond. This allows him/her the maximum amount of freedom to rapidly administer your estate. Without a will, it is up to your heirs and the Court to determine whether or not your estate should be dependent or require a bond. These determinations can result in higher costs, slower administration, and constant trips to the Courthouse to receive approval for administrative decisions.
These are just a few pros for having a valid executed will. As you can see, it is not just a matter of your estate size, or whether you think the laws work for you. Wills can reduce stress, save your family money, and ensure your legacy is preserved with the dignity and respect it deserves.