If you die without a will, you die “intestate” and your assets will be distributed according to your state’s law. That probably will result in a distribution you didn’t intend: some states require that 50 percent of a decedent’s assets go to the children, leaving only 50 percent to a surviving spouse.
Some people mistakenly believe that not having a will will enable their assets to bypass the time and expense of probate. That’s not true–if you die without a will, your property still must go through probate.
Thus, you should have a will. If probate avoidance is a concern, you can create a trust. By using a revocable trust, you can retain control over the trust assets while you’re alive. Assets placed in trust during your lifetime can be distributed at your death, under the terms of the trust, without going through probate.
After you draft a will, don’t forget about it. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces all may raise the need to revisit your so-called “last wishes.”
After each change, make sure that your current will is both safe and accessible. One strategy is to leave your will with your executor, especially if you name a financial institution.
If you decide to keep your will somewhere else, your executor and other loved ones should know where it is. The lawyer who prepared your will should have a copy as well as a memo revealing the location of the original.
No matter where you put your will, have another document for your funeral and burial instructions. Generally, wills aren’t read until days or weeks after death. That won’t help your survivors make prompt decisions about a funeral or a memorial service. Thus, a separate letter should be used to specify your final wishes and your executor should know where these instructions can be found.