“Earlier this month, news outlets reported that Aretha Franklin, a Memphis native, died without a will. That fact seems important, but what good does a will actually serve?”
There are three documents at the core of estate planning that allow people of modest means and people of great wealth to protect and convey their health care and financial wishes during incapacity and death: the durable general power of attorney, the durable health care power of attorney and the last will and testament.
This is the subject of an article from The Daily News that asks “How Useful is a Last Will and Testament?” According to the article, a will is an individual’s post-mortem (death) plan to distribute one’s assets. They are almost always written down. There have been instances of verbal wills, but these are very unusual and risky. A will can be used to dispose of nearly anything which the person, known as the “testator” (if male) or “testatrix,” (if female), owns or has an ownership interest.
Any person who is legally competent can sign a will, provided they are aware of who they are, what assets they own and to whom they want to give those assets. In Tennessee, a will is generally valid if it complies with the laws of the state, the laws of the state it was drafted in or the last state where the testator legally resided, when they died. Estate laws vary from state to state, so it would be wise to have your will prepared by an estate planning attorney in your state.
Wills are used to transfer tangible property as well as real estate, money and ownership interests in businesses, stocks and other entities. While most beneficiaries are humans, wills can be used to name charities, trusts, businesses and animals as beneficiaries. For animals, some people have “pet trusts” created to protect their pets, if they should outlive their companion animals.
One benefit of having a will, is the ability to decide for yourself who should inherit your possessions. If you die without a will, the state’s laws determine what happens to your possessions. That is known as dying “intestate.” Anything you own that does not have a beneficiary designation or surviving joint owner, will be passed automatically to your legal next of kin.
If you don’t have a will, aren’t married and have no children, your estate will be distributed to your next of kin.
If you have young children and die without a will, the court will appoint a guardian to rear your children. It may not be the person you would have chosen. If you have young children, you should have a will made without delay, to name a guardian and a person to be in charge of managing your money that is left for your children.
A will may be revoked, changed or amended at any time, if the person is legally competent. However, because it is a legal document, it should be created with an estate planning attorney to make sure it complies with your state’s laws and is created to accurately and independently reflect your wishes.
Reference: The (Memphis) Daily News (Aug. 30, 2018) “How Useful is a Last Will and Testament?”
Suggested Key Terms: Last Will and Testament, Estate, Next of Kin, Assets