What is a Will

A will is a legal document in which you specify who will become the new owner of your property (your “estate”) when you die. Your estate may consist of real and personal property which you own at the time of your death, including cash, bank accounts, personal effects, household furnishings, motor vehicles, stocks and bonds, and may include retirement or employee benefits. Your will may also allow you to designate a guardian for your minor children.

The right to determine how your property passes after your death is an important one. However, there are two things to keep in mind when considering your will. One, not all assets pass under a will. The two most common examples (although there are others) are life insurance payable to named beneficiaries and “payable on death” bank accounts. And, if you are married and you own property designated as “community property” with your spouse, your will may designate who will receive your portion of the community property, not your spouse’s. Two, if you do not leave a valid will, it does not mean that “the state” will get your property. If you do not leave a valid will, your property may pass under the Texas “descent and distribution” laws. This means that your property will pass to your descendants in the order prescribed by the State. For example, your children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, etc., may be entitled to a portion of your property according to such rules and in the order prescribed. Obviously, the most important benefit of making a will is that you get to choose. In Texas, in most instances, if you decide to exclude someone from receiving your assets, even if that person is related to you, that is your choice and your right, as long as the will is property prepared.

Why do I need a Will

The most obvious reason for a will, as stated above, is that it allows you to specify who receives your assets. Another reason to have a will is that it is an act of love and caring for those you leave behind when you die. Death leaves bereaved loved ones who are confronting loss and emotional and perhaps financial turmoil. The legal process when there is no will leads to greater costs and delays, greater time commitment, additional court proceedings, and perhaps additional emotional turmoil as relatives vie for what their believe is “their share.” For those with “blended” families in which a spouse has children who are not the biological children of the other spouse, leaving a valid will becomes especially important. Few situations generate more hostility than the death of a spouse with children from a previous marriage or relationship when there is no will. The surviving spouse may suddenly be facing a situation in which he or she is expected to divide or share assets with those children, assets which the surviving spouse feels he or she “owns.”

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