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Do I Still Need a Will?

In times gone by, the iconic Last Will and Testament was the cornerstone of virtually every estate plan.  In today’s world, however, with the proliferation of various non-probate vehicles for transferring assets at death, a Will’s importance seems to have greatly diminished.  In many instances, arrangements for the transfer of assets at death are provided for not in a Will, but rather in beneficiary designations filed with life insurance carriers and retirement plan administrators, in “Transfer-On-Death” and “Payable-On-Death” registrations on bank and brokerage accounts, or in the provisions of a revocable living trust into which assets were transferred during life.  Not much left for a Will to do, is there?

Before tossing your Will into the “don’t need it anymore” pile, let’s take a look at a few reasons why a thoughtfully prepared Will can, and should, still be an important part of your estate plan:

1. DRIBS & DRABS – Try as you might, it is virtually impossible to leave this world without leaving behind at least some assets that will be transferred by your Will.  They might include refunds of unearned premiums on your health insurance coverage, the final Required Minimum Distribution on your retirement account, or your last payroll check from your employer, just to name a few.  It just isn’t possible to put these assets into a non-probate transfer format while you’re alive, so, guess what, they will be transferred at death pursuant to the provisions or your Will.  At least that is the case if you have a Will.  Without a Will, assets of this type will be distributed to your heirs-at-law under the Indiana intestate laws.  Perhaps your “heirs” are, indeed, the persons you would want to receive such assets, but they may not be.  To make certain they go to the persons you want, you need a Will.

2. TANGIBLE PERSONAL PROPERTY – While it may be fairly easy to arrange for the transfer of real estate or financial assets “outside your Will,” it is a much more challenging task to do so with tangible personal property you might own.  This type of property includes clothing, jewelry, furniture, golf clubs, and artwork, for example.  While these assets may have little monetary value, their sentimental and emotional value may be enormous.  Dividing and distributing assets of this type can be extremely difficult without a plan in place designating who should receive what.  You can provide such a plan in your Will.

3. GUARDIAN – It may be possible, without a Will, to arrange for the management and distribution of assets you may leave to young children, but arranging for the care and custody of the children themselves is another matter.  Children under eighteen (18) years of age must have a guardian appointed for them by a Court.  The way for you to inform the Court as to the person(s) you would like to serve in that role is through a provision in your Will.  For anyone with minor children, naming the person(s) to serve as guardian(s) for them is reason enough for having a Will.

So…, even though a Will may not serve as the property transfer arrangement it once did, there could be some very important reasons for having one.