You don't have to be wealthy to need a will in regards to your personal property. After you're gone, legal wrangling can become time consuming for family members left behind and often creates indecision and fighting amongst potential beneficiaries as your wishes may not be clear. A will is usually straightforward and simply put is a legal document that specifies how your property will be dispersed at the time of your death. It can be revoked or amended at any point in your lifetime, and can be used to appoint a guardian for any children that are not yet of legal age.
Another option to be considered is a living trust. A living trust handles property management of all assets and all of these assets are transferred to the trust. Typically, you will act as your own trustee while specifying who will act as trustee upon your death. A living trust has the added benefit of avoiding probate after you die and preventing public disclosure of all your private financial matters. A living trust does have some drawbacks. It must be maintained and any new property acquired must be transferred to the trust or it will not be under the protection of the trust. A living trust is also more expensive to initiate and must be managed. Generally a living trust is recommended if your estate exceeds a specific dollar amount, you have minor children, you're willing to manage the trust, and if you want control of when your beneficiaries receive any assets.
A simple will might be a better option if there is informal probate available where you live. Informal probate is a greatly expedited form of probate and is generally available to those whose estate is under a certain dollar amount. If you are single without children, and you don't own a business, it probably isn't necessary to set up a living trust and a simple will is sufficient. Upon your death, the executor of your estate will submit your will along with a petition to the probate court. The petition requests that the will be accepted as legal and valid and request that the executor named in the will be legally appointed. Any heirs, beneficiaries, or creditors must be notified of the submission of the will and have a specific amount of time to challenge it or submit claims against the estate.
This process does not apply to living trusts, which is why many people opt for a living trust versus a will. Each person's situation is unique and should be evaluated by an attorney who is familiar with estate law. Talk to your family and determine who will handle your affairs after your death. With everyone understanding who will handle which aspects of the estate and what to expect, the loss of a family member is a less stressful one.
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