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Do You Really Need a Will?

Many people believe they don’t need a will. But how valid are the more common reasons for not preparing a will? Your estate is too small. Some believe that if their estate won’t be subject to estate taxes (in 2021, your taxable estate must be over $11.7 million before estate taxes would be owed), there is no need for a will. However, a will’s purpose is not to save estate taxes, but to:

  • Provide for the distribution of your assets. Without a will or other estate-planning documents, your estate will be distributed in accordance with state law, which may or may not coincide with your desires.

  • Name guardians for minor children. Without a will, the courts decide who will raise minor children when both parents die.

  • Select an executor for your estate. The executor assembles and values your assets; files income, estate, and inheritance tax returns; distributes assets; and accounts for all transactions. You will typically be in a better position, based on family relationships and individual qualifications, to decide who should be named executor of your estate.

All your property is jointly owned. When one owner dies, jointly-owned property passes directly to the joint owner, regardless of provisions in a will. Also, the unlimited marital deduction allows you to leave any amount of your estate to your spouse without paying estate taxes. Thus, many married couples use joint property ownership as their sole estate planning technique. However, individuals with very large estates may save estate taxes by distributing some assets to other heirs or there may be other reasons to distribute some assets to other heirs. A living trust will distribute your assets. Only assets actually conveyed to the living trust are controlled by the trust document. Typically a pour-over will is also needed, which places any asset not held by the trust at your death in the trust. You expect your estate to grow significantly in the future.Some feel it is premature to plan their estate while it is being built. However, a will can be changed. In fact, you should periodically review your entire estate plan to see if changes in your personal situation, preferences, or tax laws require changes to your plan.

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