By: Jonathan D. Sykes
In sports they have a saying about aging athletes: “Father Time is Undefeated.” Unless you somehow beat the odds, Father Time may just catch up to you someday. For some people, they never see it coming.
Are there people you care about you’ll leave behind? If so, perhaps the last thing you want to do is leave them a mess to clean up; which could take months, or in worst case years to resolve, not in the way you would’ve hoped for in all likelihood, and could squander thousands of dollars in legal fees better applied to paying for food, shelter, children’s college, and other needs.
What happens if you die without a Will? Any property you leave behind will be distributed according to government statutes that treats everyone in Texas as if they all had the same desires for where their property goes when they die. See Tex. Est. Code §§22.015, 101.001(a)(3), (b), 201.001-201.003, 201.101.
Who gets the deceased’s property, and what portion they get, may depend on whether:
- Deceased was married at time of death. Was that the deceased’s only spouse or had deceased been married before?
- Did deceased have only separate property? Only community property, or both?
- Did the deceased own an interest in real estate? Own any personal property, including things like a business, cars, financial accounts, collectibles, heirlooms?
- Did deceased have any children? Were the children all of the same spouse? Was that the spouse the deceased was married to at time of death? Are all those children adults, or are some minors? Did the deceased have any grandchildren who survived a sibling who died before the deceased?
- Did the deceased have any children out of wedlock? Are any out of wedlock children’s whereabouts, or even existence, known, or unknown?
- Did the deceased have siblings? Are they surviving deceased? If not, did the siblings have children of their own?
- Are both deceased’s parents living? Only one? None?
- Did the deceased have debts at the time of their death?
Still want the government to decide who gets your property, or would you rather make things simple for everyone you care about and make sure your property goes to who you want it to go to?
You can protect everyone you care about from having to pay their own legal fees to get help figuring out whether they’re entitled to any portion of your estate. If you want your property to go where you decide, prevent title problems, and save your heirs the cost, confusion, anxiety, and possibly family conflict of leaving your estate in disarray, then you’ll likely benefit from preparing a properly drafted Will and executing it correctly. A properly drafted and properly executed Will can prevent these and other types of problems.
In addition, you might wisely, and/or with the benefit of competent advice, benefit those you care about by addressing other matters in your Will, such as:
- If a surviving spouse was not an owner of a home shared with the deceased, do you want to make arrangements for their shelter?
- Are your heirs all capable of handling money you might leave them? For instance, if your spouse is a senior citizen, do they need help managing financial affairs?
- What about children’s ability to manage money? Are they responsible? Informed? Do they have spouses that might pressure them to spend the money in reckless ways you would not approve of? What arrangements could be made?
- Are any heirs currently minors? Who will help them with their housing, food, clothing, medical, schooling, emotional and other needs?
- Should minor heirs receive their portion when they become adults as the government statute determines, or according to your best judgment after discussing with a competent advisor? Who can protect minor heir’s inheritance until they reach an age you designate?
- Do you have a family member with “special needs,” due to disability? If they are, or could become eligible for certain government benefits, not having a Will, or having an improperly prepared one, may cause them to lose Medicaid and or SSI benefits.
- Are you hoping to give some portion of your estate to any charity?
- Are there any debts that must be taken care of?
A Will is a legally binding roadmap of sort for your heirs to follow. With a properly drafted, and properly executed Will, your wishes “Will” be carried out. Without a Will, the possibility of conflict in the family increases. Lack of understanding, confusion, financial pressures, your children’s spouses, and old man greed can be a powerful elixir. A Will usually prevents all those problems.
A competent attorney can help you prepare a Will that will ensure your property goes where you want it to go when you die, prevents title problems, can provide help for an heir incapable of managing an inheritance responsibly, ensure minors or disabled heirs have the assistance they’ll need, and that debts will be handled in a controlled manner.
© Jonathan D. Sykes 2018