5 Problems Not Having a Will Can Cause

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Dying is inevitable, and if you ignore that fact, you could set up your loved ones for a difficult time after you’re gone.

“Everyone should have a will,” says Jerry Rothkoff, an elder law attorney with Rothkoff Law Group, which has offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

He tells Money Talks News that even if someone doesn’t have significant savings, they may own an asset such as a house or a car or receive a refund from taxes or insurance. A will is your way to say who gets those assets or money.

Without a will, someone is said to die intestate. And in that case, you forfeit your chance to determine what happens to your possessions. Instead, they will be divvied up based on your state’s law.

What’s more, you set up your family and heirs for the following problems that can commonly occur when there is no will.

1. Delayed inheritance

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“It’s a lot of work to settle an estate even with a will,” says Tim McGrath, a certified financial planner and founding partner of Chicago-based Riverpoint Wealth Management.

Either way, you need to go to through probate court, but without a will, you’ll need to wait for the court to recognize legal heirs and determine who will serve as personal representative for the estate. It is up to this person to inventory assets and ensure they are distributed as required by law.

The process can be made even longer if there is a dispute regarding who should be the personal representative. “If you have multiple children, they have to agree to all go along,” says Mitch Mitchell, product counsel for Trust & Will, an online estate planning provider.

If they don’t, your family could be looking at more court hearings and added attorney fees to settle the disagreement. That in turn can delay, and perhaps reduce, their inheritance.

2. Unintended recipients

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Not only could it take longer for your family to get their inheritance if you don’t have a will, but your assets could go to the wrong people. Depending on state laws, your property will likely be divided by a hierarchy which generally prioritizes your spouse, followed by children and grandchildren, parents, siblings and then other relatives.

“They make assumptions about a nuclear family,” Mitchell tells Money Talks News. However, modern families are diverse, and you may have different priorities when it comes to who gets what.

A will is your only way to stipulate who is entitled to receive specific portions of your property. Failing to write down your wishes could mean a relative you’ve been estranged from for years walks away with the lion’s share of your assets.

3. Bitter fights

Couple who are fighting and considering divorce
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Losing a loved one can be stressful and may heighten emotions for everyone. Throw into the mix uncertainty about what will happen to valuable or sentimental possessions, and you have a recipe for disaster.

“If everyone gets along, it’s fine,” Rothkoff says. “(But) that’s a world we don’t live in, right?”

You can help your family avoid the strained relationships and hurt feelings that can come with estate disputes by clearly spelling out in your will who gets what and why. Not everyone might be happy with the outcome, but putting it in a will should, at least, head off any lengthy legal battles among your loved ones.

4. Lost or forgotten assets

Piles of money
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If you fail to plan ahead, there is also the possibility that some of your assets could get overlooked.

“Not having a will creates an information gap,” Mitchell says.

Loved ones might not realize you own property in another city or have a 401(k) from a previous employer. If you are single — or have kept financial secrets from your spouse or partner — you definitely want to spell out all your accounts and assets in a will or other estate planning document. Otherwise, there is a chance that property could be lost or forgotten. And that benefits no one.

5. Unwanted guardians

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Even if you don’t care how your assets and property are divided after your death, you may have strong opinions about who raises your minor children.

“People don’t like facing their own mortality,” McGrath tells Money Talks News. That means they may avoid estate planning, but it’s critically important if you want a say in your children’s future, especially if you are raising them alone.

“Does it really make sense for the state or the county to decide (the guardian)?” McGrath asks.

Don’t leave their future to chance. You know your child best, and you know who among your family and friends is best equipped to take them in should tragedy strike. Put it in writing in a will — for everyone’s sake.

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