What are Reasons to Not Die Without a Will?
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What are Reasons to Not Die Without a Will?

Why should I create a Will? How do I protect my loved ones and assets? In this article, we'll go over the 5 reasons why having a Will is extremely beneficial for you and your loved ones. Keep reading to learn more.

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When you pass away without a Will this is called “dying intestate.” This is a fancy lawyer term meaning “you are f**cked.”

Did that get your attention? Good. Most Americans fail to have a Will and this problem arises regardless of income status. Some of the most famous (President Lincoln) and wealthiest people (Michael Jackson) who ever lived failed to have valid legal Wills. 

For example, think about someone like Sonny Bono, who shot to fame as the cerebral half of Sonny & Cher. Bono eventually was elected to Congress, where he was able to pass a copyright law that extended the copyright terms for music, books, and films, ensuring that people could make a lot more money from what they created. Bono was a smart man and a great businessman, but somehow he failed to make a Will, as we all find out when he crashed into a tree and died during a ski trip. His then-wife Mary Bono had to go through a drawn-out probate process to be named Executor of his Will. She probably would’ve preferred to be left alone to grieve, but instead, she had to fend off claims by his ex-wife, Cher, and an alleged love child. A California probate court eventually declared Mary and Bono’s children his only heirs, but that process took a lot more time and cost a lot more money than it would have if Bono had drafted a Will. 

Starting to get the impression dying without a Will is a very bad idea? Here's five great reasons you shouldn’t die without one.

Reason No. 1:  Control Over Who Gets What

The most obvious reason to have a Will is so that you get to say who gets what. If you don’t have a Will, your assets may be distributed according to the laws of intestacy, which vary by jurisdiction. This means that the state will determine how your property is divided, often following a predetermined hierarchy. That means you’ll have no legal right to say who should receive your assets.

Consider the example of Pablo Picasso. When he died at age 91 in 1973, he left behind a fortune that went beyond cash, real estate, and bonds. Oh sure, Picasso had a lot of that stuff - five homes, gold bars, and at least $30 million in the bank. Perhaps even more valuable were his paintings. He left behind at least 5,000 works of art, including “1,885 paintings, 1,228 sculptures, 7,089 drawings as well as tens of thousands of prints, thousands of ceramic works, and 150 sketchbooks.” Picasso was not a starving artist; he was more like a major conglomerate and interest in his art never really dissipated. What was to happen to all those works of art? Who got them? Could they be sold? If they were sold, who got the money?

Picasso may have had strong feelings about these questions but the only way to make those feelings valid was to put them in a Will. Since he didn’t do that, it took more than six years to settle his estate. He had four children, but only one was born to someone who had been his wife. The woman he was living with for decades prior to his death didn’t have any children with him and therefore had no legal claim to his estate. The Picasso estate was valued at close to $250 million. Today it’s probably closer to $1 billion because the artwork is appreciating in value and his image and likeness are also extremely valuable. But it cost the family about $30 million to settle the estate and even when the dust settled, the family continued to fight over licensing rights.

You may not be a Picasso but if you have children, spouses, and partners, you need to have a Will. By creating a will, you regain control over the distribution of your assets, ensuring they are passed on to your chosen beneficiaries, whether they are family members, friends, or charitable organizations.

Reason No. 2:  Protect Your Minor Children

If you have minor children, a Will allows you to appoint a guardian who will care for them in the event that you die unexpectedly. If you don’t have a Will, the court will make this decision for you, which may not align with your wishes or the best interests of your children. How would this work? Let's say you have a sibling who you believe would provide the best care for your children. By explicitly naming them as the guardian in your will, you ensure that your children will be raised by someone you trust and who shares your values in the event that the children's other parent is also gone or isn’t able to raise them.

You also want a Will to make sure your legacy is given to your children. Do you know who screwed this up big time? Reggae legend Bob Marley. When he died in 1981, he had no Will. And it wasn’t like he didn’t think about his legacy, but he said that writing one was against his Rastafarian religion. Marley lived in Jamaica, where the laws for those who die intestate dictated that 10% of his assets went to his wife, while his eleven kids got 45%, which was divided equally among them. However, this meant that the children weren’t entitled to his name or likeness, which is more valuable in today’s money than it was when he died. (If you’ve ever visited a college campus then you surely have seen more Bob Marley hoodies and posters than you can count). Claims between family members and the estate went on for 30 years. This was all avoidable with a simple Will. 

Reason No. 3:  Avoiding Family Conflicts

That brings us to family conflicts and how to avoid them. Dying without a will can create discord among surviving family members, leading to unnecessary legal battles and strained relationships. By clearly outlining your wishes in a legally binding document, you minimize the chances of disputes and provide your loved ones with a clear roadmap for asset distribution. 

Here’s a common example of a Will contest that creates family drama:  when there isn’t a Will, siblings may disagree over who should inherit certain assets, causing long-standing family rifts. When Michael Jackson died suddenly in 2009, it launched major legal disputes over whether he had a Will or not. Several members of the ever-dysfunctional Jackson clan went running to court right away. Some of his siblings argued that his Will was a fake. There have been several attempts to remove Michael’s mother, Katherine Jackson, from her role as the children’s guardian. Katherine went missing in 2012, causing the court to remove her as guardian. She was reinstated later. Was this really what Jackson intended when he died? Probably not, but he exacerbated the situation by leaving a less than clear Will. A well-drafted will can help prevent such conflicts and maintain family harmony during a difficult time.

Reason No. 4:  Protecting Unmarried Partners

If you are in a long-term, committed relationship but are not married, dying without a Will can leave your partner without any legal rights to your assets. A Will allows you to provide for your partner, ensuring they are protected and receive their fair share. Picasso’s girlfriend didn’t have a legal claim to his estate because he died intestate. Swedish author Stieg Larsson also failed to have a Will. Larsson wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He had been with Eva Gabrielsson for 32 years - for basically his entire life. But under Swedish law, his estate was divided between his father and his brother, his legal heirs. So if you've been in a committed relationship for many years and wish to leave a portion of your estate to your partner, you’ll really need a Will. Otherwise, the person may be excluded entirely, potentially leaving them financially vulnerable.

Reason No. 5:  Minimizing Estate Taxes

A carefully planned will can help minimize estate taxes, ensuring that more of your hard-earned assets are passed on to your chosen beneficiaries. Through strategic estate planning, including trusts and other tax-saving mechanisms, you can potentially reduce the tax burden on your estate.

The most common example arises when you live in a state that has a significant estate tax. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger wrote a 176-word Will that pretty much screwed his children because he didn’t consider the tax implications of his Will. By consulting with an estate planning professional and utilizing strategies such as gifting or setting up a trust, you can maximize the value of your estate for your loved ones and minimize the tax liability. When you use FastWill to draft a Will, our cutting-edge AI will help you make the right decisions for your financial situation.

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