Many people do not realize that they have choices about what happens after they die. A last will and testament is a legally binding document that gives you the opportunity to express how you want your possessions to be distributed, who you want to care for your minor children and who will manage your final affairs for you.
Because life is uncertain, it can be advantageous to embrace this opportunity for choice while you can. Unfortunately, unexpected deaths happen every day, and when someone dies without a will, there is no longer a way for them to make their wishes known.
Determine how your possessions will be distributed
One of the most common reasons to draft a will is to decide how your estate will be distributed. This is advantageous for everyone who cares what happens to their money or possessions after they die.
Dying without a will is called dying intestate, which means that New York’s intestate succession laws will dictate how your estate is distributed. Although intestate succession laws use a standard hierarchy of relationships to determine who should inherit what, there are numerous scenarios that are not reflected in this hierarchy.
For example, if you have a significant other you are not married to, that person would likely inherit nothing when you die, unless you specify your wishes in your will. Another example might be if you are closer to your grandmother than your mother. If you died, your mother would stand to inherit before your grandmother would, even though that does not reflect your relationships with those people.
Choose someone to raise your minor children
Another important reason to have a will is to designate a trusted person to be the guardian for your minor children. If you die unexpectedly and you do not choose a guardian for your minor children, a court will end up deciding.
Although a court will try to find a guardian in the best interests of your children, the court has no way of knowing your children’s needs as intimately as you do. You probably also have a better insight into your family dynamic than a court could have. With a will, you can use your knowledge of your children and your other loved ones to choose the guardian that makes the most sense for your situation. However, if you do not have a will, you have no way to make your preference known.
Select someone to manage your final affairs
A third reason to draft a will is to choose someone, called an executor, to manage your final affairs. The executor is responsible for finding and collecting your assets, managing them until they can be distributed and then distributing your assets according to your will. The executor is also responsible for paying your debts, funeral expenses and taxes from the assets in your estate.
If you die without a will, the court will appoint someone to do these things, but you will not have a choice in the person who is chosen. In general, people tend to be most comfortable having a trusted person or institution manage their financial affairs.
Many of the benefits to creating a will involve you embracing your opportunity for choice. However, by not having a will, you also make a choice. Without a will, you choose to let the state decide who your possessions should go to, who will care for your children and who will manage your final affairs.