Do I Need A Will?
Well it depends, but it never hurts to have a will. If you do not have a will, this means that the court will distribute your property according to the laws of intestacy. These laws may actually follow your wishes if you die without a will, but they may not.
First, the court considers giving your physical and monetary possessions to your surviving spouse. If there is no spouse or they cannot take it, then it looks to your children. If there are no children, then it looks to your grandchildren. If there are no grandchildren, then it looks to your parents. If you don’t have surviving parents, then it will look to an established list of more remote family relationships. You can read the full list and details here. If you have no remaining family that the court can find, your monetary and physical property will become the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
If you leave behind more than one person with the same degree of relationship to you, it will be equally divided among then. For example: if you leave behind no spouse, but four children, each child will each receive one-fourth of your estate.
If you leave behind minor children (and no spouse), the court will establish a trust and choose a trustee to handle the funds. They are then distributed to your children when the court-appointed trustee chooses. Another court will also help designate an appropriate guardian for your minor children.
So if the laws of intestacy result in a desirable division of your property, you are satisfied with a court-appointed administrator of your estate, and you believe the court will choose an effective trustee to serve your children, you don’t really need a Last Will and Testament.
You need a will, however, when any of the following apply:
You want to have more than one degree of relationship inherit anything. Example: you want to leave your child and your mother property.
You would like to specifically list who would get certain items (jewelry, china, cars, etc.) instead of them being equally divided.
You would like to give gifts to charity upon your passing.
You want to have a trusted person follow your wishes as an executor of your estate.
You want to set up a trust for your children with specific guidelines and choose a trustee to manage it. This trustee can release portions of the funds at designated ages or milestones that you choose.
You want to list your wishes for a guardian of your minor children. Your will cannot establish a guardianship as that is a separate process, but the court will consider your wishes. Without a will, you have no input.
If you would like assistance setting up a will, a local attorney can help you navigate the details of what you would like contained in your will and file it with the Register of Wills. Please contact:
James G. Strupe, Jr., Esquire
112 Market Street, Suite 429
Harrisburg, PA 17101