Why Do I Need a Will?

Let’s talk about wills. Why should you have one? Here are ten reasons.

First, a Will allows you to decide what happens to your property, real and personal, upon your death. Without a will, laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania control how your property is distributed, in what share and to whom. Wouldn’t you rather decide than the legislature?

Second, dying without a will means that distribution of assets could benefit persons the deceased had no intention of benefiting. Think about the “objects of your bounty.” Are there individuals you would not include in your will? Are there persons you would want to give certain assets to? Is there someone you would like to benefit from your estate more than another?

Third, a Will allows you to name a personal representative, called an Executor or Executrix, to administer your estate. Without a will, the intestacy laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania set forth an order identifying persons/entities who may Petition for Letters of Administration. Interestingly, a creditor of the decedent is on the list. By executing a Will, you can prevent a creditor from administering your estate.

Fourth, a personal representative who resides outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is often required to post a surety bond with the Register of Wills to insure that the representative faithfully administers the estate and upholds the law. This out-of-pocket expense can be several hundred or several thousand dollars depending upon the size of the estate. So, if a person dies without a will and a child petitions to be appointed Administrator of the estate and resides in New Jersey, the child will incur the cost of a surety bond before the Register of Wills issues Letters of Administration. In a will, the testator can waive the requirement of filing a bond for an out-of-state personal representative.

Fifth, in Pennsylvania, the Department of Revenue collects an inheritance tax based upon the value of a decedent’s assets as of the date of death. In addition, the United States Department of Treasury collects a Federal estate tax on estates in excess of the annual exclusion (for 2015 that amount is $5.35 million). Both of these taxes must be paid within nine months of the date of death. Estate planning is a method by which the amount of tax liability can be reduced or, in some cases, eliminated.

Sixth, if you have minor children, a will allows you to designate a Guardian to raise those children in the event of your death. Without a will, a court decides who will raise your children.

Seventh, when leaving money to children, a will can protect assets from immediate distribution to minors. For example, a testamentary trust can hold money for the benefit of a minor beneficiary until age 18, 21, 25, or whatever age the testator is comfortable with. Also, a testamentary trust can define to what uses the money could be put, for example, a college education for a child or grandchild.

Eighth, a will can protect a family member with a disability. A special needs trust offers protection so that the disabled person’s government benefits are not compromised by an inheritance.

Ninth, in a will, you can make arrangements for the care of a pet in the event of your death.

Tenth, by putting your wishes in writing and setting forth the distribution of your property in a will, you decrease the likelihood of disagreement or conflict among your beneficiaries.

Here’s one New Year’s resolution that is simple to keep: make a will.