Not having a will, or having an outdated one, can cause legal issues in already challenging times.
When actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in early February, his will had not been updated in 10 years. Consequently, two of his three children were not included in it. His estate has been left to his long-time partner and mother of their children, Marianne O’Donnell, according to a Feb. 20 Forbes article by Deborah L. Jacobs. However, due to tax laws, nearly half of the $35 million estate may be lost.
A will is a legal document that dictates one’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets and belongings upon their death. Although most students probably aren’t thinking this far ahead, it can be important to start considering the various element important to deciding whether or when to prepare a will.
“In Kansas, if you die with no spouse or descendants, your parents inherit everything,” said Jodi Kaus, director of Powercat Financial Counseling, in an email. “If you have a spouse and descendants, your spouse inherits half of your intestate property and the descendants inherit half of your intestate property. That is fine, if this is what you desire, but if it is not, then you need a will and your will has to go through the probate process at death to be deemed valid.”
Kaus also suggested that once a will is obtained, it should be reviewed periodically, especially in the case of some major life event, such as a marriage, birth or major financial event.
“Not only is a will important, but there’s also something called a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions and a living will. And those three documents go hand-in-hand,” said Sarah Barr, attorney for Student Legal Services. “So, when I have someone come in for a will, I encourage them to do all three documents.”
A durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions gives another individual the authority to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. A living will sets out your wishes for medical treatment if you are considered to be in a terminal condition. These two documents, as well as wills, can sometimes be used to stipulate funeral wishes as well.
End-of-life decisions shouldn’t necessarily be included in a will, Barr said.
“I discourage people from doing that in a will simply because very often the will is not found or even read until after the funeral,” Barr said.
Using the power of attorney or a living will can ensure certain wishes are met before an individual dies.
“With those documents, you can say ‘I want my organs donated,’ for example,” Barr said. “Or, ‘I want this or that to happen at my funeral,’ because those are documents that people are going to know about while you’re still alive. Your will, not so much.”
The rules and requirements for these three documents vary between states, Barr said, so it is important to be informed when considering making a will or similar document. This helps to make sure that the process is completed legitimate and the document is indeed legal.
Ultimately, whether an individual should or shouldn’t get a will is dictated by their current life situation.
“It wouldn’t hurt for everyone to consider their situation and make a conscious decision as to what fits their needs best, rather than leaving it to chance and Kansas law,” Kaus said.