You Think You Don’t Need a Will? Here Are Six Reasons Why You Do—Including Charity


Featured Article
August 2017

Here is a common estate-planning question that we get asked rather frequently:
Is it truly necessary for us to have wills? My spouse and I own our home, cars, and bank and investment accounts in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, and we have named each other as beneficiaries of our respective life insurance policies and retirement funds.

The answer is: Yes, you still need a will!

The couple asking this question is correct that all of the things mentioned would not be governed by a will. Property owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship automatically passes to the surviving spouse, and insurance proceeds and retirement funds are paid directly to the named beneficiary. Nevertheless, everyone should have a will for the following six reasons:

  1. There likely are items of personal property—jewelry, collections, household items, etc.—that you and your spouse own individually and that are not governed by joint tenancy or beneficiary designation.
  2. Even supposing that everything passes to your surviving spouse by right of survivorship or beneficiary designation, the surviving spouse would need a will to direct the disposition of assets upon his or her death. There are two problems with waiting until your spouse has died to execute a will: by then you might not have the capacity to make a will, and you would no longer be able to discuss the matter with your spouse in order to come to a common understanding about inheritances.
  3. If you and your spouse should die in a common disaster without wills, your property would be distributed per the intestacy laws of the state in which you reside—and these laws might not conform to your wishes. Also, the person selected by the court to administer your estate might not be the person you would have chosen.
  4. If you have minor children and are not survived by a spouse, you can designate a guardian for your children in a will.
  5. In a will you can provide for the particular needs of your children and other loved ones. For example, you might establish trusts for children or grandchildren when a stream of income is more advisable than a lump-sum gift.
  6. In a will you can leave some portion of your estate to charity. You can also do this by naming a charity as beneficiary of an insurance policy, a retirement fund, or a bank or investment account—and there can be advantages to making a legacy gift in that manner. But when you have a will, you can choose which gifts to make in your will and which to make by beneficiary designation.

Signing beneficiary forms and owning property jointly with right of survivorship are great ways to transfer property with minimal cost and without delays of probate proceedings, but they are not a substitute for a will. Please contact us for information about the various considerations when drafting your will.

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