Dying without a will (Intestate) means losing control of what happens to your assets after death. Here’s what your family can expect if you haven’t taken care of this important detail before your death.
In Minnesota the state maintains a sort of will for you in the form of specific formulas that are used to divide up your property in the absence of a will. The assets pass first to your spouse and then to your children. If you don’t have either the state will move on to grandchildren, brothers and sisters, and then other relatives as necessary.
The state makes every effort to find heirs. If they can’t, your property reverts to the state.
This may not sound so bad, but what if you have property that you want to leave to someone other than your relatives? What if you’d like to give a measure of your estate to charity, or to a dear family friend? This is when a will becomes vital.
It’s also very important to have a will in the event that you have minor children. You will want to be the person who makes the ultimate decision about who becomes their guardian.
If you haven’t appointed a guardian in your will then the courts will appoint a legal guardian. While the courts will work hard to make decisions that are in the best interests of your child they can’t know your child, your family, or your friends as well as you do. The judge has to make those decisions within a relatively small window of time and may not make the same assessment that you would make.
Your will also allows you to identify the executor (also called a Personal Representative) of your will, the person who will be responsible for seeing to it that your wishes are followed. Again, if you don’t have a will on file then the state will appoint someone to be your executor. It may not be who you would choose.
However, it’s a common myth that wills allow your family to avoid the probate process. In truth this will is used as part of the probate process and helps save time.
Wills simply speed up the probate process. If nobody contests the will or the division of the property then probate can be over relatively quickly. Protests and disputes are more likely to happen, however, when there’s no will to work with, or when the will that the court is working with was created improperly.
Thus, your will can even be a tool for keeping your family together and avoiding bitter disputes after your death. It can certainly be a tool for getting your property into your family’s hands as quickly as possible.
The attorneys at Barna, Guzy, and Steffen have over 35 years of experience with wills, trusts, and other estate planning issues. Call us today to make sure that your wishes are known and honored after your death.