Many Texans don’t have a will. In fact, a report last year showed that nearly half of adults in the United States don’t have a will.
If you were to ask some of these people why they don’t have a will or any estate plan, you’ll probably hear that they don’t think they have much to pass on to the next generation. Some will say they’re young and healthy now, and so they don’t need to plan their estates yet. Others may just not want to think about the subject.
None of these are good reasons.
The importance of having a will becomes clear when you learn what happens when people die without one.
When a person dies, the law refers to all that person’s assets and debts as their estate. The main purpose of a will is to provide legally binding instructions for how the assets are to be distributed to the heirs of a person’s choice. The will also selects a person to be in charge of settling the affairs of the estate and distributing the assets.
Without a will to provide these instructions, the court must appoint someone to serve in this role. This person, known as the administrator, must distribute the assets according to Texas’ intestacy laws.
Under these laws, the administrator chooses the heirs according to the state law of intestate succession. Essentially, this is a formula designed to distribute the assets to the nearest of kin.
For example, if the deceased left behind a living spouse and living children, the law of intestate succession says that the surviving spouse gets all the deceased’s community property, plus one-third of any separate property. The surviving spouse also has the right to stay in the deceased’s real estate for the rest of their life even if they no longer technically own it. The surviving children split the remainder.
The above is a relatively straightforward example, but many family relationships are not so simple. The law of intestate succession goes to great lengths to address every possible situation, tracing along a person’s family tree to find the nearest of kin.
In many cases involving more complex family trees, the result is a mess. Close companions may be shut out while estranged or distant relatives inherit everything. Family members may be angry with each other about the results, and these fights can tear families apart. They may even be mad at the deceased.
Besides being emotionally messy, intestate succession can also be costly. It takes time to settle an estate, untangle family relationships and distribute assets. It also requires court fees and other costs. Those costs come out of the estate.
This means that when it finally becomes time to distribute assets, there is less money to go around.
When you consider all the above, you may begin to see that drafting your will and other estate planning documents isn’t something you do for yourself. It’s something you do for your loved ones. You can save them a lot of time and money, and minimize the possibility of conflict. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to pass on, a well-drafted estate plan is a gift you can give to your loved ones.