Most people have heard that they should have a Will drawn up once they have children, are planning on a trip abroad or facing a serious surgical procedure. But any adult should have one since putting it off can be too late. Accidents or unforeseen events happen everyday and believe it or not, you are not invulnerable.
If you accumulated any assets at all, you will want to have your property distributed to whomever you designate as your beneficiaries when you pass away. If you have no Will when you die, you are considered intestate, or without a Will, and your personal and real property will be distributed according to West Virginia’s laws on intestacy. This does not apply to any assets you have in a trust or other accounts that have designated beneficiaries.
According to the intestacy laws, your property will pass to your nearest relatives, such as your spouse and children. If you have none, then your parents or grandchildren would be the beneficiaries. If none, then to any other blood relatives if the court can locate them.
While it may have been your intention that your children or spouse receive your assets, your failure to leave a Will and designate who receives which items of property can cause family discord and even lawsuits in some cases. And, if you have no surviving parents, spouse or siblings or blood relatives who can be located, the government could sell your property at auction. Even if you expressed your intentions verbally or in letters or documents as to how your property should be distributed, the court will not honor your wishes without a valid Will.
Further, if you have minor children and die without a Last Will and Testament, the courts will decide who will be your children’s guardian.
To make a Last Will and Testament, you must be at least 18 years of age and be mentally competent. It must also be in writing and signed by the testator, or person making the Will, and two witnesses. Witnesses generally must not be beneficiaries but West Virginia law allows heirs of the testator to be witnesses so long as their gift is no more than up to the amount of what they would have received under intestacy.
You can avoid having a court determine the authenticity of the Will by having it self-proved. This requires the testator and witnesses to provide a notarized affidavit as to its authenticity.
What to Include in a Will
Wills are fairly simple documents to draft but are powerful documents nonetheless. Provisions in your Will should include:
An executor and an alternate for who will administer the Will, sign necessary documents and ensure distribution of your assets as you intended
Name of a guardian for your minor children
Assets you wish to distribute but decide which ones to leave by other methods
Consider a property guardian or trustee to manage the property left to your minor children or young adults
Estate planning can be extremely complex, but a Will is the simplest, easiest and usually least costly method of having an estate strategy.
If you have a question about a Last Will & Testament, give us a call. At Wolfe, White & Associates we can draft a simple Will that gives you peace of mind. Call us at 304-245-9097 for a free consultation & pricing.
J. Christopher White