When an individual passes away, he or she may have created a will that determines where his or her assets go after death. In the event that an individual dies without creating a will, state law determines who gets some or all assets remaining in that person’s estate. In most cases, assets are given to the deceased’s spouse or children. Assets may be given to other family members if the deceased had no children.
Even if a will is present, a spouse or children may still be entitled to a portion of an estate under state law. However, this may be avoided by putting assets into a trust or otherwise titling assets outside of the estate in a trust with named beneficiaries. Certain property such as retirement or bank accounts or life insurance policies may be passed down to a named beneficiary.
In addition to determining who may be entitled to portions of an estate, a will may also designate a guardian for minor children. This may decrease the odds that the children are supervised by the state if there is no other surviving parent. Finally, the will may provide for step-children, friends or others who would not benefit from assets within an estate without the presence of the will.
Talking to an attorney may make will planning easier and increase the odds that a will meets the needs of an individual. For instance, part of the plan could make money available for minor children. An attorney may be able to meet with an individual on a regular basis to ensure that a will that was created in the past is still representative of that person’s wishes. It may be a good idea to review estate planning documents after life events such as a marriage or divorce.