Do I Really Need a Will?

You may be asking yourself, “Do I really need a will if I have little property or money?”

Many people think that, after they pass away, everything will go to their spouse, or their “children will handle everything.”  Others think that because they don’t have much, they don’t need a will.  These ideas can lead to expensive on unforeseen consequences.

The answer is a clear “Yes – you need a Will.”

A Will is simply a legal declaration of a person’s intentions of what they would like performed after their death.  If you have a will properly prepared and executed will in place prior to your death, then you can determine how you would like your assets divided.  A Will provides you the opportunity to name an Executor who will carry out your intentions after your death.  If you have minor children, you can express your intentions on selecting a guardian of those children.

Alternatively, without a Will, your money and possessions will be distributed by a pre-determined formula fixed by Pennsylvania law which means that your spouse may have to share assets with other family members that you may not choose. There can be delays in the final distribution of assets. And, importantly, it could result in your minor children being placed in the care of a court-appointed guardian rather than with people you choose to care for them. 

Understanding Intestate Succession

Dying without a Will triggers what is known as “Intestate Succession. “When you die intestate, the disposition of most of your property is controlled by the Pennsylvania Law of Intestate Succession set forth in 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2101 et seq.  Simply stated, if you have not prepared a Will dictating where you want your property to go after your death, then the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has already decided for you. 

The statute lays out a hierarchy, of who receives your property based upon their relationship with you.  A few possible scenarios include: 

  • If the deceased has no surviving children, grandchildren (otherwise known as “issue”) or parents, then the surviving spouse gets everything.
  • If there is a surviving spouse and issue who are issue of both surviving spouse and the deceased (same parents), then the surviving spouse gets the first $30,000, and one-half of the remaining assets.  The other one-half is divided between the issue. 
  • If there is a surviving spouse and issue, but at least one of the issues is not issue of the surviving spouse (not the same parents), then the surviving spouse gets one-half and the other one-half goes to the issue. 

Beneficiary Designation

However, this does not apply to property which has a beneficiary designation, in which case how the property is titled controls where it goes.  For example, if you have a life insurance policy or a retirement plan, then the beneficiaries that you designated control where the property goes. 

If you have a joint bank account, then the other titled owner will receive it.  If you own your house with your spouse as tenants by the entirety, then the deed controls the disposition of that property. A life insurance policy and a retirement plan with beneficiary designations will pass directly to those beneficiary designations.

Preparing Your Will

At an initial Estate Planning Consultation, I sit with you and discuss what you would like to happen to your home, property, and any other assets.  I work with you to help you prepare a Will that expresses what you want to happen, and make sure that the Will is properly executed under Pennsylvania law so that it will be followed.  

Give yourself a little piece of mind and have a Will properly prepared and executed so that your wishes and desires are memorialized, and your property goes where you want it to go.

Let me help you prepare your Will. 

Michael Frisbie
Frisbie Legal Solutions
329A South Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

267-899-1775 (FAX)

Frisbie Legal Solutions, PLLC is a registered Pennsylvania professional limited liability company. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. Frisbie Legal Solutions provides legal services and advice to clients only after an attorney client relationship has been formed through a written agreement. The information presented should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney client relationship. Any communications sent through this website are not privileged and confidential.