Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

Do I Really Need a Will or a Trust?

            You are not required to have a will or a trust, and there are many people who die without having either one.   However, there is often a hefty price to pay, typically falling on the shoulders of your loved ones, for not having a will or a trust. The best gift you can give yourself and your family is to your affairs in order and tell them what your expectations are.  A will or a trust will accomplish though goals.

What is a will?  A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding what should happen when you die. 

Why should you have a will?  Simply put, a will is one of the best ways to make sure that your assets are distributed according to how you want after you die.  But a will can do so much more than that.  For example, in your will, you can

  • Name a personal representative (formerly known as an executor) to be the person in charge of carrying out your wishes
  • Name a guardian or conservator for your minor children in the event that you and their other parent have both died
  • Designate a funeral representative to carry out any funeral, cremation, burial, or other instructions
  • Divide your assets according to how you want them to be distributed
  • Give special items or gifts to particular people or charities

What happens if I die without a will?  If you die without a will and you have minor children or personal property, real property, or financial assets that do not have beneficiary designations, your estate will be subject to probate laws of the State of Michigan.  Under those probate laws, the court will decide who should be in charge of your estate, how your assets will be divided (according to laws that you may not agree with), and who will be your funeral representative.  In other words, a judge who knows little to nothing about you or your family may be making very important decisions about the people and things that are most important to you.

Should I have a trust? A trust is another legal document that sets forth what happens to your minor children or your personal property, real property, and financial assets, if they are included in the trust.  However, a trust has unique qualities that allow a person that you designate, named a trustee, to carry out your wishes sometimes well after you have died.  For example, if you have minor children and your trust is named as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, your trustee can hold that life insurance money and even invest it until your minor children have completed college or a trade school or reached some other milestone that you have specified in your trust.  Without the trust, your minor child may be entitled to all of the life insurance money at age 18, which may not be something you want.  Further, until age 18, without a trust or trustee to manage that money, the court will be required to appoint a conservator to manage the money for your minor children until they reach the age of 18.  This can be costly and against what your true wishes are.  There may be other reasons to have a trust, like minimizing tax burdens, or if you have a house, cottage, or other real property that you would like to leave to more than one person.

Are wills and trusts worth the cost?  As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  If you pay nothing, the likelihood that your estate is not distributed according to how you want, is the greatest.  However, wills and trusts are relatively inexpensive as compared to the cost of hiring a conservator or other professional, or of going through a lengthy probate process, particularly if there is a dispute over your children or your assets.  So, spending a little money up front will help protect you and your loved ones from having a judge make important decisions about your loved ones and your assets.

Why should I meet with an attorney rather than download a form from the internet?  There’s no question that the internet has made fill-in-the-blank wills and trusts accessible to everyone.  However, buyer beware!  We have seen far too many people who have downloaded wills or trusts from the internet, but because of the signing requirements or the wording of the document, it has been either invalid in court or it does not achieve the customized goals of the client.  Estate planning with an attorney is the best way to ensure that your own individual and unique needs are met.  Each person’s family, assets, and wishes are unique to them, and a pre-printed form often times cannot achieve your goals, and sadly, can be missing the legal wording or signatures to make it valid under Michigan law.

Categories: Estate Planning