My standard answer when someone asks if they need a will is – “If you have kids, you need a will.” What makes having kids a determining factor?
First, if you have minor children you want to have some say in who will take care of them in the unlikely event both you and your spouse pass away. Beyond that, you probably also want to designate who will be responsible for controlling the funds that will be used for their health, education and welfare until they are old enough to manage their own finances. Without a valid will, both of these decisions will be left to the probate court.
Second, if you die without a will, the law designates how your property is distributed – and the probate court may need to be involved in the process. If you have no children, the law distributes your property to your spouse if you are married, or to your parents and their heirs if you are unmarried and childless. If you are married and have children that are not also your current spouse’s children, all children and your current spouse inherit your property.
As an attorney who handles the closing of real estate transactions, I see files where someone died without a will on a weekly basis. I have seen scenarios in which an estranged child from a prior marriage has an interest in a property that was purchased with a new spouse, or one child refuses to cooperate when all others chip in for maintenance and taxes on property or want to sell property. I have even seen several children agree to ignore the existence of another child when they provide an affidavit as to their siblings.
When a valid will is probated the cost is generally reasonable – in the neighborhood of a few thousand dollars if you hire an attorney to handle the probate for you. When there is no will and the probate courts are involved in the guardianship of children or the distribution of property, the costs can be much higher because the court, not having the benefit of your intentions, will hire attorneys, appraisers, psychologists and others to determine what is in the best interest of your children and how best to dispose of your property. These people are all paid out of your estate, and not necessarily interested in making sure that your property brings in top dollar. The cost to your estate of not having a will often far exceed the cost of having one prepared.
If you would like to use a knowledgeable title company conveniently located in the Heights, please give us a call. Fidelity National Title, 1512 Heights Blvd., Houston, TX 77008 (713)529-8800.