Estate Planning: When is a Last Will and Testament a Good Idea?

People often think estate planning and wills are for the wealthy and upper middle class.  It is true that people who are well off have more to lose if they die without a will, but it is also true that in some instances wealth is not the determining factor for whether having a will is a good idea.


If a person dies without a will, state law (called intestacy law) determines who inherits the person’s property. Typically, the property is inherited by a spouse and any surviving children. The percentage usually varies by state and age of the children. If the deceased does not have a spouse or surviving children, then state law typically dictates that the property is inherited by relatives further down the bloodline (e.g., parents, siblings, etc.).


For many, the intestacy law’s division of proceeds is just fine, but if any of the following situations exist, a will or trust may be the only way to ensure that property passes as desired by the deceased.


Unmarried Couples. Unmarried couples do not have an automatic legal right to inherit property of the other. A will, trust, or other estate planning tool must be in place to ensure that property passes to the surviving party, if desired.

Children From Prior Marriages.  A common problem is fairly providing for both a surviving spouse and children from a prior marriage. Typically, property would be inherited by the surviving spouse and later passed on to the couple’s shared children. However, when the deceased spouse has children from a prior marriage special provisions must be made to ensure that the prior children receive the desired inheritance.


Minor Children. A will or trust should be an absolute must for anyone with minor children. This is the only way to ensure that your child is cared for by the person you choose. Without a will or trust designating a guardian, the court chooses the guardian.


Stepchildren. Stepchildren do not have an automatic legal right to inherit a stepparent’s property.  A will, trust, or other estate planning tool would need to be in place to leave property to a stepchild. 



This information is to provide general information about the law, not to provide legal advice. THIS INFORMATION MAY NOT BE UP TO DATE. By using this site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher or any attorney contributor. The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. 

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