No one wants to think about dying, so many put off preparing an estate plan. But dying without a will means that state law (and not you) will determine who will take care of your children or how your assets will be distributed.
Having a will is important. It puts you in the driver's seat even after you are gone so that your wishes about how your assets should be distributed can be followed. It also can give your surviving family members peace of mind by reducing or eliminating some of the uncertainty and confusion that often comes when a loved one passes away.
There are lots of reasons why everyone should have a will. A few are discussed below.
Who takes care of the kids?
If you die without a will, the district court will determine who takes care of your minor children if their is no surviving parent. It is possible that both parents could die in a single car accident, leaving your children with no immediate caretaker. The court might select a sibling or relative that you might not have chosen. That's why it is important that each parent have a will to name their child's guardian.
Who will administer the estate?
A will names an executor who is tasked with preparing an estate inventory, paying off debts, and distributing property. Choosing the right executor is important: you want to pick someone who will follow your wishes and has the right personality and attention to detail. Without a will, the probate court will name an estate administrator who may not be the person you would have chosen.
What are Kentucky's intestacy laws?
When someone dies without a will in Kentucky, the state's intestacy laws are applied to determine who receives the probated property. If you want everything to be left to your spouse, you may be surprised by the outcome under Kentucky's intestacy laws.
If you leave behind both a surviving spouse and descendants, your surviving spouse will take one-half of your probate estate and your descendants will take the other one-half per stripes.
If you leave behind a surviving spouse and have living parents (but no descendants), your spouse will take one-half of your probate estate and your parents will take the other one-half. And if your parents have already passed away but you have siblings, then your siblings would take your parents' share.
This may be exactly how you want your estate to be administered, but it probably isn't. Having a properly drafted will can ensure that your wishes are followed.
Can I avoid probate altogether?
Do you have life insurance policies or a retirement account? Who are named as beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries of these accounts and policies?
Do you own your home, car, or bank account? How these assets are titled can impact how they can be transferred after you die.
It is possible that very few, if any, assets need to be administered through the probate process if the ownership of your assets is properly structured. It is critical that preparation of a last will and testament not occur in a vacuum: proper estate planning looks to asset ownership and beneficiary designations to ensure that the right people or trusts are named.
But even if you believe that all of your assets will pass outside of probate, either by setting up and funding revocable living trust, by designating beneficiaries, or by owning property jointly with survivorship rights, you may have missed a piece of property. In those circumstances, it's important to have a will in place, too.
These are just some of the reasons why it is important to have a will, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list. And for each individual, circumstances will vary as to why having a will is important. For some, it may be just about naming a guardian for their minor children. For others, it may be more important to set up a trust within the will to make sure that a child not have access to too much money all at once.
Whatever your circumstances, if you do not have a will you should take a proactive step by contacting an estate planning attorney at Brackney Law Office, PLLC, to schedule a consultation by calling (859) 559-4648. You can also learn more about our estate planning services and download a fact-finder to get started by clicking here.