A will can help you accomplish a number of important planning goals. For instance, it allows you to control how your assets are distributed after you pass away. Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to what is known as intestate succession, in accordance with strict guidelines set by the state. What you “would have wanted” is irrelevant to the state. Your assets must be distributed, and the state has devised a formula to do so.
A will also gives you control over how your minor children will be raised if something terrible happens to you and your spouse. Your will allows you to name people of your choosing—people you trust—to raise and care for your children if you cannot. Without a will, the court will decide who has control over your children. The court’s decision could lead to your children being raised in a place and manner you never would have wanted.
In short, a will allows you to accomplish important goals after you have passed away. However, it does not allow you to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated. To accomplish that, you need additional planning documents such as a power of attorney and advanced medical directive. These empower one or more individuals to make decisions about your assets or medical care when you are unable to make them on your own. Without these critical documents, a court will appoint someone to make decisions and act on your behalf. This could very well be someone you would not have chosen yourself. Similarly, doctors would have the authority to take actions they believe are in your best interest regardless of what you would or would not have wanted.
Next time, we’ll discuss other reasons to your plan should include more than just a will.