Frequently Asked Questions About Wills

Q: What happens when a person dies without a valid will?
A: Their state’s laws of descent and distribution come into play.

Q: Aren’t state laws adequate for most situations?
A: No, because they’re impersonal. They don’t make exceptions. They may also deplete your estate unnecessarily, as certain fees and other expenses can be minimized or eliminated through a well-planned will.

Q: Why don’t more people have wills?
A: Because they don’t realize how important a will is. Some think they don’t own enough property to need one.

Q: Does joint ownership make a will unnecessary?
A: No. That’s a common misconception. Joint ownership may create unnecessary estate taxes and may result in the imposition of gift taxes. It may also deny you complete control over your property while you’re still living. Joint ownership is a poor substitute for a will but can often work well in conjunction with one.

Q: Can a will reduce estate taxes?
A: Yes. Through a well-planned will you can make a number of provisions that can reduce estate taxes.

Q: Should both husband and wife have wills?
A: Yes. It’s important that each have a will even when the two wills may be essentially the same. The wills should complement each other and take into account any special bequests to other family members.

Q: Do I need a will if my estate is small?
A: Yes. The smaller the estate, the more important that it be settled quickly as delays usually mean increased expenses.

Q: Can I write my own will without hiring an attorney?
A: You can, but It’s generally not advisable. Many homemade wills are declared invalid by the courts. There is no substitute for the professional expertise of a competent attorney.

Q: How much does it cost to have an attorney write my will?
A: That depends on how simple or complicated your plans are. Wills generally cost less than most people expect and undoubtedly less than the emotional and financial cost of not having one. Ask your attorney in advance about the fee.

Q: Once I have a will, should I ever have to change it?
A: You should review your will periodically, because even the best wills can become outdated. Changes may be needed if your marital or financial status changes or charitable interests change. If you have more children, if your executor/executrix or guardians can’t serve, or if you acquire property in another state, revisions may also be in order.