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The Importance of Creating a Will

The Importance of Creating a Will - They're Not Just for the Wealthy

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 5.17.24

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Attorney RJ Connelly III

"This past Wednesday, our office attended a meeting at a wonderful neighborhood center in Connecticut to engage in a meaningful discussion with a group of senior residents," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "The residents brought an array of concerns to the table. These included the lack of mental health services for seniors and the rising costs of necessities, which significantly impact seniors due to their limited income. Interestingly, the residents also expressed curiosity about the importance of having a will, regardless of the size of their estate. So, let's start with a quick explanation of a will and its importance."

"A will is a critical legal document that enables individuals to dictate how their estate should be handled after their passing," explained Attorney Connelly. "Shockingly, a recent survey revealed that almost two-thirds of Americans do not have a will. It's vital to recognize the many advantages of having a will. Failing to have a will in place means relinquishing important decisions to a local court and the laws of your state, resulting in the loss of control over the distribution of your property and assets and creating additional challenges for your loved ones."

Probate and Family Dynamics

"When a member of your family passes away, it can be an emotionally taxing experience which can be made worse by not having a will in place," stated Attorney Connelly. "In cases where the deceased did not leave a legal will, the estate enters a process known as probate. Probate is a legal procedure that determines the rightful heirs and oversees the distribution of assets."

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Family structures are much different today

Unfortunately, navigating probate can be costly and time-consuming, potentially using more resources than the expense of creating a will. Further, it may not result in an ideal allocation of assets. Wills play a crucial role in addressing gaps in property distribution and ensuring that beneficiary claims on life insurance policies are properly addressed.

"Today's societal landscape encompasses various family structures, including blended families and subsequent marriages," said Attorney Connelly. "It is increasingly common for mature couples to cohabit post-divorce or following the loss of a spouse. Consequently, individuals may seek to provide for their partner while securing the transfer of their assets to their children from a prior marriage. It is imperative for individuals to pragmatically assess their family dynamics, financial requirements, and the eventual distribution of their estate."

Acknowledging that fairness and equality may not always be synonymous is essential. There are instances where parents may find it necessary to differentiate their treatment of children based on individual circumstances. For instance, if one child resides nearby and the other lives elsewhere, the parent may opt to include the local child in their bank accounts for practical reasons, even if the original intention was to distribute assets among the children equitably. However, in the event of the parent's demise, the jointly held assets may automatically transfer to the local child, leaving the other child with no share. This outcome may not align with the parent's wishes and can lead to disputes. To preempt potential conflicts, a will can include a no-contest clause, serving as a deterrent for heirs contemplating disputing its provisions.

Why Families Fight

"During Wednesday's meeting, a significant issue was raised by the attendees regarding family disputes over the property of deceased loved ones," said Attorney Connelly. "Some individuals even shared their personal stories, which, unfortunately, we have all experienced. These situations highlight the emotional complexity of a loved one's death on the family unit. However, the underlying reasons for these disputes might not be as straightforward as they initially appear."

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Family battles go deeper than money

The dynamics of family inheritance disputes are complex and often misunderstood. While these conflicts may appear to revolve around monetary assets or sentimental items, they are often rooted in the survivors' quest for affection and significance. Inheritance conflicts seldom appear when a loved one passes; instead, they often stem from long-standing relationship issues that resurface after them. Understanding the complex motivations behind these disputes, beyond mere greed, can shed light on the intricate dynamics within families.

Exploring this topic further would require a comprehensive examination of family dynamics and the intricacies of family relationship psychology, which is beyond the scope of our current blog. However, it's important to note that not all disputes over inheritance within families are solely driven by greed and financial motives.

I Don't Have Anything

Having a will is not just about distributing money. Even if you don't have a lot of wealth, a will can outline your wishes for your assets, guardianship of any dependents, and even your healthcare preferences. It's an important legal document that ensures your affairs are handled according to your wishes. Here are some reasons why a will is important:

Who will distribute what little I have? - If you pass away without a will, your state's intestacy laws will determine how your assets and property are distributed. However, by creating a will, you can designate specific individuals as beneficiaries for particular assets, name beneficiaries for any remaining property not explicitly mentioned, and exclude specific individuals from receiving any inheritance. Having a will ensures that your property and assets will be distributed according to your wishes, ensuring they go to the chosen people or organizations. Without a will, there is a risk that your property may be distributed in a manner that does not align with your preferences or may cause unnecessary family disputes.

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A fight over an old chess set was not about its worth

"We had two family members battle over an old chess set that held significant sentimental value," explained Attorney Connelly. "While not particularly valuable in monetary terms, one sibling claimed that it had been promised to him, while another recalled the cherished memories of their late grandfather teaching her to play chess on that very set. The dispute was driven by emotions and the deep-seated memories associated with the set, rather than any desire for financial gain."

Pets can be safely placed. You can entrust your pet to a trusted friend or family member who is willing and able to care for it. Additionally, consider providing financial support to ensure your pet's needs are met while caring for your beloved companion.

Attorney Connelly shared a touching story about a client who passed away and left her cherished dog to a kind neighbor who had aided her during her illness. The client was known for dressing her dog in baby clothes and pushing it around town in a stroller. She even made provisions for the dog's food, medical expenses in her will, and cremation plans after the animal passed.

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Leave detailed instructions for your funeral

Help loved ones plan your funeral - By providing clear instructions, you can cover everything from designating a funeral executor to specifying your preferences for your final resting place.

Attorney Connelly mentioned that a client had left detailed instructions for their friends and family regarding their funeral arrangements. The client had specified how they wanted to be dressed, what music should be played, and the duration of the viewing hours. They were very particular about what should be inscribed on their headstone and the words spoken at the services.

Dealing with Social Media Accounts - Your will can designate a digital executor responsible for managing your digital assets, such as social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram), email accounts, digital photos, videos, and websites. You can provide specific instructions on how you want these digital assets to be handled, including passwords and login information.

Attorney Connelly said the office had encountered clients with specific requests regarding handling their accounts. Some wanted details about their passing added to their accounts and kept for a set duration before erasure. In contrast, others wanted all social media accounts deleted after their passing without any notifications. Everyone has distinct preferences for managing their online presence after their deaths.

A Final Note

"Creating a will is crucial in ensuring that your final wishes are legally upheld and that your loved ones are provided for after you're gone," emphasized Attorney Connelly. "When composing a will, it's essential to be explicit and specific to prevent any ambiguity regarding the distribution of your assets and the guardianship of your dependents. Additionally, it's worth noting that having a will isn't exclusive to the wealthy. Lastly, regular review and updates to your will are important to ensure that it accurately reflects your current situation and preferences."

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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.

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