One of the great unknowns in Estate Planning is a fundamental question: Do I need a Last Will & Testament? The answer is, no. You do not necessarily need to have a Will, that is so long as you do not care about what happens with your assets after your passing.
A Will is a directive, a document designed to provide instruction and implementation of your desires. The State of Missouri provides in our State laws a “default” for what happens to a person’s assets upon their death. It does not take into account your wishes, desires, or directions. It merely sets out who is entitled to take the assets you leave. Without a Will, those default provisions will be applied and your assets will be distributed without your input. or anyone else’s input for that matter.
But a Will does more than simply dole out money and property. It can also be used to name your preferred Guardian if you have minor children. Without that direction, if you were to pass while your children are under the age of 18, their care would be left up to a potential Court proceeding, and you would have no real input. Even further, if you leave no other direction then any money, property, or other assets that would go to your children will become their property upon reaching the age of 18 years old.
While none of us like to admit it, I know that if I’d been handed a large sum of money at age 18 (or a small sum for that matter) I would likely not have made wise choices with that money, at that time. Even now, at age 37, I’m sure I could do better! A Will helps avoid a windfall of sudden income on a young person who, in this scenario, does not have a parent available to help guide them.
A Will can establish a Trust, it can distribute family heirlooms, direct payment of funeral and healthcare expenses, and even provide for the care of a beloved family pet.
So, while the short answer may be “No.” the short answer, as is often the case, leaves out the nuance of what happens if you stop there, and do nothing more. A Will can provide peace of mind for your loved ones after you’re gone, and peace of mind for you while you’re here that whatever legacy you are able to leave behind will be handled in a way that you think is most appropriate, not whatever statutes happen to be on the books at the time.
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