Dying Without a Will

For various reasons, many Mississippians are hesitant to discuss documents like a will or an advance healthcare directive. Some don’t want to think about their own demise. Others feel like drafting a will is tantamount to admitting death is imminent, and who would want to advance his or her own decline, however superstitiously? In the absence of discussion, misconceptions sprout and are passed along. The following is Misconception #3:

3. Only Wealthy People Need To Have a Will.

Many people think they don’t need a will unless they are wealthy. I’m frequently told, “We just don’t have any money to fight over.”

This “wealthy-only” misconception is probably driven, at least partly, by the cinematic trope of a wealthy industrialist’s heirs crammed into a lawyer’s office to await the reading of the will. People have always been fascinated with the divvying up of large inheritances. I’m often asked if a will can only be opened at a lawyer’s office (the answer is no, wills can be opened anywhere).

But what if you have only a small amount of property? What benefit does a will provide?

First, a will names one of your children or descendants (or a trusted friend) as executor. In a period of grief, the last thing your heirs should worry about is which of them is most fit to manage your estate. Naming an executor in your will relieves them of that painful decision.

Second, a will allows you to nominate a guardian for your children. If, tragically, you and your spouse pass away simultaneously, your children may be left without certainty with regard to who should serve as guardian of your children. Even if you have a previous verbal agreement with relatives, failing to formally name a guardian in a will can leave your relatives with additional steps to take and uncertainty to weather.

Third, a will reduces the chances of unrest among your heirs. By stating clearly how you want your estate handled, your children or other survivors will know that they are carrying out your wishes. This certainty will allow them to rest easier during the grieving process. It also reduces, for years to come, second-guessing of the way the estate is handled.

There are a number of additional benefits to drafting a will. It is very important to contact a qualified attorney who can point out these benefits, as well as potential pitfalls, in your estate planning.