Having a Will is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. Not only can a Will legally protect your spouse, children, and assets, it can also spell out exactly how you would like things handled after you have passed on. Procrastination and the unwillingness to accept death as part of life are common reasons for not having a will.
Stewart, Melvin & Frost is one of Northeast Georgia’s largest and fastest growing law firms and is widely respected as an “Uncommon Practice” – the firm features an experienced team of attorneys, each of whom is recognized as an expert in highly specialized areas of the law.
Question: What are some of the reasons you tell clients they need a Will?
Brook: There are several reasons but the main reason is a Will is a legally-binding document that lets you determine how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death.
You decide how your estate will be distributed.
• You decide who will take care of your minor children.
• Can simplify the probate process.
• Avoid disputes among heirs.
• Direct gifts and donations.
Question: You mention a Will can address who takes care of minor children. With Wills we sometimes think they are something created later in life. That’s not the case, is it?
Brook: No, obviously none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. If you have minor children, you should have a Will – even if you don’t have many assets. Absent a Will, grieving relatives may find themselves in court fighting for guardianship of the children. Having a Will ensures that you to select the person or persons that you want to raise your children, or better, make sure it is not someone you do not want to raise your children.
Question: What are the advantages of having a Will when it comes to probate?
Brook: Once a Will has been probated, it is a legally enforceable document. It is the best assurance that the people you want to benefit from your estate do in fact receive that benefit. In addition, you designate someone that you trust to carry out your wishes – this person is your executor, or your personal representative. Having a Will can speed up the probate process. You can choose to give your executor powers under the Will that they would not otherwise have. You can choose to lessen, or increase, court oversight of your executor by including certain provisions in your will.
Question: If you don’t have a Will, can that lead to confusion with the settling of the estate?
Brook: Georgia law does a good job of defining what happens to your estate if you don’t have a Will. However, without the explicit instructions, not having a Will can be a breeding ground for disputes among heirs.
Question: Is selecting an executor of your estate, part of the Will?
Brook: Yes. Executors make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, canceling your credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business establishments. Because executors play a big role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organized which may or may not always be a family member.
Question: How often should I look at updating my Will?
Brook: 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 any changes in tax law.