Although the last will and testament is not always a favorite topic of discussion, there's peace of mind in knowing that you can continue to take care of family and loved ones after you're gone.
Perhaps just as importantly, a living will also provides for your advance directives to be followed to the letter of the law - to prevent extraordinary methods being used by the medical profession against your wishes, and to provide your relatives with guidance in making life and death decisions for you if you cannot speak for yourself.
Dying without a will
U.S. state laws have made it easier for families to inherit money, property or other assets from a departed loved one who has died "intestate" or has left no will.
However, it is always preferred that specific instructions be left so that all one's worldly possessions NOT be decided by a local probate court.
Probate hearings can result in more stress for a grieving family and the end result might not be what you would have wanted.
In many cases, a surviving spouse automatically gets the full estate. If there are children, then the spouse normally receives more or an equal amount to share with all of the children, depending on local law. If there are no known surviving relatives, a lifetime of earnings, savings and all the property of the deceased are automatically inherited by the state.
Gay, lesbian, and other domestic partnerships
Many federal or local governments still do not recognize the legality of same-sex marriages or other domestic partnerships that fall outside the traditional definitions of marriage. It is vitally important for domestic partners to have wills and estates "airtight" in order to ensure that their personal wishes are fulfilled upon their death.
Proper filing of powers-of-attorney forms are also crucial should one partner become seriously ill or unable to handle their own financial affairs. Courts will normally recognize a blood relative, next-of-kin, as the person who should attend to the
affairs of someone who is incapacitated.
Without a power of attorney and a living will, a life partner can be excluded from all contact and decisions. This is especially problematic in the case of a family where lifestyle choices have created friction in the past.
There are many resources for setting up your own will or a living will, but experts advise getting professional help and guidance. Wills that have been made without legal advice often wind up not holding up in the probate process because of minor
technicalities that were not followed. Lawyers who specialize in wills, estates and probate issues have experience and training to make sure that when it comes to settling your estate, everything will go smoothly.
More information about wills & estates around the Web:
Around the Web, check out basic facts and information on what to do (and not do) at top sites offering expert advice and how to's for do-it-yourself estate planning, wills, living wills and trusts...
FindLaw - Wills - A great cache of articles on the subject with basic information on writing a will, with additional details on codicils, changes and amendments, willing property, special property rules for married couples, and even disinheriting those pesky family members, with more on estate
Robert Clofine's Elder Law and Estate Planning Page - The site that answers the question "The Safe Deposit Box--Who Gets Access When You Die?" along with lots more on wills and estate planning, the latest tax and social security law changes, nursing homes and asset protection, living trusts, powers of attorney and related issues.
information provided on these pages is intended as reference
only and does not constitute professional legal advice.