Crafting a last will and testament while still alive may seem morbid and slightly off-putting but the truth is that, especially as an individual’s assets and family grows, it’s the most basic and important form of legal protection one can be armed with. It creates boundaries between the State and the individual, besides family members themselves.
The Function of a Will
A last will and testament can be a simple or complex document, depending on the number of personal assets. Like tax forms, the greater a person’s net worth, the more aspects must be included and considered how to divide. The first thing to keep in mind is that what has been earned in the family remains in the family. If it’s not named, there is a chance that others can lay claim – including the State. It also takes into consideration debts and liabilities. Keep in mind that these, too, will pass to surviving family members who must then bear the burden of fulfilling these. Essentially, a properly drawn-up and executed will should really regard intention. But the technicalities of witnesses, clauses and revisions come into play when there is more than one version that appears after the deceased passes and these can have a significant bearing on which will is deemed official. The instructions left in wills inform the executor how to proceed over material aspects left behind. In some cases, it can also precisely detail how the family members wishes to be buried or their parting rites be performed.
The Kids & the Money
It’s not just a question of dividing up “the money” between “the kids”. A will can outline and provide important information about guardianship of children, should the parents pass before the children reach age of majority. Sometimes, couples decide to leave estate planning out of their daily considerations because they simply don’t have extended family members to ask to take guardianship or they can’t agree on who it should be. In this case, a will can do more than protect assets: it can protect people – namely, children. Families who have significant assets should consider retaining a family lawyer to decide and administer on matters of finances, setting their children up with trusts, while leaving the domestic guardianship to the appointed guardian. A will should be detailed enough to address this issue.
Wills and estate planning are pretty standard for heterosexual couples. But what about instances of same sex marriage and common law union? The question of estate planning and LGBTQ wills, especially when it comes to homosexual couples, are best handled by an experienced lawyer. In the United States, even in jurisdictions that don’t recognize same sex marriage, wills between same sex couples should be adhered to. It can help protect families with same sex parents from keeping assets in the family unit as well as guardianship to the surviving spouse. However, even these are prone to be overturned in certain states where there is no precedent. It’s best to use a living trust, as these are harder to overturn and, in all other cases, consider creating a “separate will” for each individual. Again, an experienced lawyer ought to be consulted.