Deciding whether to have a will is a choice we all have to make. Bucky Highsmith, an estate attorney and partner with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart Melvin & Frost, specializes in legal areas that affect older citizens, including estate planning, wills, trusts, guardianships, retirement planning, and other similar legal matters. Bucky offers guidance on an issue everyone must consider.
Question: Do I really need a will?
Bucky: Not everyone needs a will. It depends on the circumstance. For example, my 16-year-old does not need a will and my 22-year-old may not need a will. But my 26-year-old, who has bought a house and is engaged to be married, needs a will and has one. There is no bright line in the sand as far dividing who does and does not need one. If you have love ones and assets, you need a will. You don’t want loved ones fighting over your assets.
Question: What are the advantages of having a will when it comes to probate?
Bucky: A will by definition must be probated. Probating takes about 10 minutes and $200 at the Probate Court office. Once a will has been probated, it is given the force of law and the will governs the division of assets, who will be in charge of settling the estate and makes the whole process much easier. You are going to have to do settle your estate whether you have a will or not. A will provides guidelines.
Question: If you don’t have a will can that lead to confusion with the settling of the estate?
Bucky: Georgia law has done a good job of trying to provide for folks who don’t have the foresight to prepare a will. But without a will, you are leaving up to luck who will be in charge of settling your estate and how it will be settled. You will not have a say in how your assets are dividing and what debts are paid. You would be leaving things to chance.
Question: Do I need an attorney to help me draw up a will? Why?
Bucky: Each situation is different but keep in mind, this is one of the more important decisions we have and one of the more important processes we do. I think we could all use a little professional help.
Question: How often should I look at updating my will?
Bucky: You should review your will every four or five years to determine if it is still applicable to you and your situation. And perhaps even more often if there have been changes in the family situation. You also need to take in to account in changes in the tax law.
Question: What else should my will address besides the distribution of my assets?
Bucky: One of the things we tend to forget when talking about wills is who is going to take care of our children and a will is a good vehicle for appointing the guardian who would take care of your minor children.