Will You or Won’t You?: Why Writing a Will is the Right Choice

August 22, 2017
By Jillian Zacks
Posted in Estates and Trusts

By: Jillian F. Zacks[1]

For many, estate planning may seem like an emotional and daunting endeavor. What’s more, writing a will may seem like something only done by those more mature in life with a trove of wealth to distribute. But, with the right guidance, drafting a will is an organized and proactive way to ensure your estate reaches its potential to support your beneficiaries. You’ve spent your whole life accumulating your assets, why not maximize their ability to provide for others in the future?

A sound will benefits everyone. You, as the testator, have peace of mind knowing that your assets will be going to the people and places who need them most-your spouse, your children, maybe even your favorite charity.  It follow then, that your beneficiaries will take comfort in knowing that they are provided for in your absence. Without a will, your intestate estate will go into default mode and be distributed according to familial relation. This may be an issue for those with non-traditional families, or for those who would like their assets to be divided unevenly. If you fall into any of the following circumstances, a will would be the proper mechanism to spread your assets accordingly:

  • You’ve married or remarried and have children from a previous relationship, and you’d like your children and spouse to receive assets from your estate
  • You have one child who may need more financial assistance than the other
  • You would like to ensure that your more distance family members, like your nieces and nephews, share in your estate
  • You have a child or grandchild who is disabled and receives means-tested benefits such as Medicaid or supplemental security income, and you would like to bequeath more than $2,000 in assets without jeopardizing such benefits
  • You have a significant other to whom you are not married, and you’d like to leave them any sort of asset
  • You own real property in another state
  • You are over the age of 18, of sound mind, and have property you care about and that you’d like to pass on in a unconventional manner-meaning against the direction of consanguinity.

Once you’ve settled on completing a will, why should you not do it yourself? Wills have specific requirements that may be easy to overlook when using a preprinted form or internet service. A formal will needs to be in writing, signed, and attested to. The right attorney can ensure that the testator is competent, that the witnesses are disinterested and that the will is valid. If you’d like to amend or revoke that online form you pulled off of Pinterest, it is not as simple as scribbling  out a line item. Further,  proper estate planning will look at your whole estate and make sure it is coordinated. For instance, common non-probate instruments or the effect of taxes may be easily overlooked in a DIY will. Is the beneficiary of your life insurance policy still your ex? Is your pension account going to the right place? Most importantly, you want to make sure your will is safe. An attorney will have your will authenticated and hold a copy for safekeeping.

Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky is prepared to assist with estate and succession planning and estate administration for business owners and others. Please contact Jillian Zacks, jzacks@smgglaw.com or Dave Pollack, dpollack@smgglaw.com at (412) 281-5423 to talk about your estate or succession plan.

[1] The author would like to recognize the significant contributions of Alexis Wheeler, of the University of Pittsburgh Law School, to this post.