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Do I need a Will or Estate Plan? If so, why?

This is a question that I hear often! It is usually preceded by something like “I don’t have a lot of money” or “I don’t have any kids.” People often assume that estate planning is something for the wealthy, or that single or childless persons don’t need a Will or any plan at all.

What happens if I die without an Estate Plan?

Without any Will or estate plan in place, a person dies “intestate.” In such cases, property is distributing according to default rules under Texas law (how fun are those to read?). To accomplish this, Texas courts determine who the “heirs” of a deceased person are. Heirs are not always children or other descendants! If someone dies intestate without no children, heirs could be siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. All depends on how these default rules apply to a deceased person’s family situation.

These rules can get complex when you factor in things like divorce, remarriages, predeceased children or siblings, or even non-US citizen family members. The trouble is that if you die without any estate plan in place, you have no choice but to have your property pass the way Texas law says it does. You would have no control, and part of your estate may pass to those who you did not intend!

The default rules seem fine for me…?

Unfortunately, even for those unmarried, childless persons who may not mind the default Texas rules for intestacy in their scenario, there is still another important aspect to consider: expense. Generally, intestate administration is more costly and time-consuming than probating a Will, especially since there must always be a court declaration of heirs even when if it is “obvious” who the heirs are. It is simply more cost-effective and wiser to have a Will, even a simple one, than to die intestate.

Estate Planning is for Everyone.

Ultimately, everyone can benefit from an estate plan, regardless of age, marital status, or wealth. The basic idea of having an estate plan is to create a system of governance for your property that follows your wishes, instead of following the plan that Texas laws lay out for you by default. At its most basic level, estate planning is about having control over how your property is to pass, while simultaneously making probate faster and less costly (as intestate death typically cost more over time than deaths with an estate plan in place).

For those who do have a lot of property or other factors to consider (grandchildren, investment properties, business interests, foreign property, and so on), an important focus of estate planning is asset protection, which focuses not just on how assets pass after death, but also on how to maintain them properly for future generations and prevent legal entanglements that would arise from intestacy.

With a proper estate plan in place, just about everyone can live a little more comfortably knowing that things will move as smoothly as possible after life, and even the simplest, shortest Will might save a lot of time and expense for those who survive you!

If you have been holding off on getting your estate plan together, contact us today to get started!

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