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Why Everyone Needs a Will—Dispelling Some Common Misperceptions

Written by: Brad R. Coppedge, Esq. 

Everyone needs a Will.  This is really not an overstatement, whether you own very few assets or have assets worth tens of millions of dollars.  A Will makes things easier upon your loved ones after your death and makes the process of administering or probating your estate much easier.  Additionally, NO Will means NO control over the disposition of your own assets at death!

Let’s look at some common misconceptions about having, or not having, a Will:

Myth #1.  If I don’t have a Will, the State will get my property.

This is almost never true, because there are laws that determine ‘who gets what’, but it’s not always exactly what you would expect!

Myth #2.  I don’t need a Will, because my spouse will inherit my property.

While this isn’t entirely false, it is most often untrue.   Spouse and children always inherit, though if the children are minors, or from a prior marriage, you are creating potentially significant problems with no Will.  (And if those minor children are from a prior marriage, it may be your ex-spouse controlling those assets!)

Myth #3.  I don’t need a Will, because my spouse is my power of attorney.

Wrong.  A power of attorney always expires at death.  No exceptions. It does not pass property at death.

Myth #4. I don’t need a Will, because my house is my main asset and my spouse and I are both on the deed.

Maybe true, maybe false. What you have to determine is in what manner was the house held jointly—as Tenants in Common, or as Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship?  There is a very big difference, and in any event, there are almost always other assets that must be administered. And if you have minor children, especially from a prior marriage, you will have a problem if you have no Will.

Myth #5.  I have an old Will that is fine, because I marked some changes on it and initialed it.

Wrong.  Once your Will is executed, you may NOT mark on it and make changes. Period. It is not like a real estate contract you can mark up and initial to approve the change. ANY changes marked on your Will after it is executed will be VOID.  The changes will be given no effect whatsoever.

Myth #6.  I don’t need (or want) a Will because probate is so expensive and such a hassle.

Not having a Will does not mean your estate doesn’t have to go through a “probate” process, and having a Will almost always makes that process much LESS expensive, and much MORE efficient.  Whether you have a Will or not, your estate must be administered through the court in all but the rarest of instances.

Myth #7.   A Will is just so expensive!

Want to know what’s expensive?  Your current spouse and your children from prior marriages fighting in court over your property. The cost of a Will certainly varies among attorneys, their expertise, and the size/value/complexity of your estate, but it’s pretty common to be able to put in place a  basic estate plan (Will, Power of Attorney, Health Directive) from anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500, at least if there is no significant tax planning involved. It’s amazing that some clients think nothing of an $900/month car payment, or buying the newest $2,500 television set, but have a spouse and 3 children and show sticker shock over an $1,800 estate plan.

Myth #8.  I can do my own Will online.

You could also give yourself sutures for a bad cut or set your own broken bone.  My guess is you would not however.  So why take a risk for something as important as disposing of the assets you’ve built over your life or in providing for your loved ones?

Brad Coppedge (bcoppedge@hallboothsmith.com) is a Partner at Hall Booth Smith, P.C. and is licensed to practice in Georgia and Alabama.