Having a last will and testament is something that every single person needs to have, regardless of how substantial or modest they feel their estate may be. This because a last will and testament does much more than spell out who receives what part of an estate. A last will and testament can and should go on to set out contingencies for many practical scenarios and life events that the average person can find himself or herself in.
First and foremost, a last will and testament allows individuals to direct portions of their estate to whomever they choose. When individuals pass away without a will it is known as intestacy and will be distributed according to the laws of the state where that person resides. Generally, this means that the deceased’s property will be distributed among his or her immediate family, regardless of what his or her final wishes would have been.
Once a person passes away, his or her estate will generally need to pass through probate court, known in New York as Surrogate’s Court. Without a last will and testament, this process can be more costly and time consuming than if the deceased had clearly expressed to the court his or her final wishes on how to divide the estate in question.
Additionally, the lack of a last will and testament means the probate court will be left to decide who the administrator of the estate will be, which can be extremely important to ensuring the estate is properly divided. Ordinarily, the administrator of the estate is a close and trusted friend or family member tasked with accounting for all the assets and debts of the estate, settling taxes and debts, and following the final wishes of the deceased described in the will. The lack of a formally appointed administrator can also create unnecessary litigation between family members who cannot agree on who the personal representative of the estate should be.
For families with children, a last will and testament is an important document to let the courts know who they wish to raise their children in the event they suddenly pass away together. Without this scenario accounted for, it will again be left to the court to appoint a guardian or guardians who the judge sees fit to act in the best interests of the child or children.