The only things that are certain in life are said to be death and taxes. While everyone eventually comes to the end of their lifetime, not everyone is prepared or has their family prepared for what comes next. I’m not talking about the afterlife. I’m talking about distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
The first step in evaluating how prepared you are depends on the status of your wishes. Wishes, in this instance are not what you see when you close your eyes and blow out the candles. Wishes are what your family gets when you pass. To make sure your wishes are seen through, you must first prepare a will.
There are many services on-line that you can visit for relatively inexpensive will preparation. If you prefer, you may visit an attorney’s office to have your will prepared. In Texas, you may write out your will on your own. This is called a “holographic” will. For a holographic will to be valid, it must be completely in your handwriting and signed by you. Completely in your handwriting. Absolutely no typing. This type of will is not the preferred method for creating a will, but it should hold up in a probate proceeding with proper authentication. I would only recommend using this type of will in a pinch.
For example, I am relatively young (37 years old), and have never prepared a will for myself. Until recently I didn’t own any property and didn’t really have much personal property to give. My wife and I were set to go on vacation in Mexico. Now with three kids I started to worry about what would happen to them if anything happened to my wife and I. Who would get the kids? How would they be taken care of? If you don’t say somewhere, someone else will make that decision for you. So I got out my pen and paper and made my holographic will.
Without a will, the distribution of your estate will pass as set forth in the Texas Probate Code. This is generally 1/3 to your spouse and 2/3 to your children. You also run the risk of someone not of your choosing administering your estate. If you do a will on your own, be sure to name your Independent Administrator to handle the estate. Also, state who you want the residual (what you didn’t give to a specific individual) to go to. Without a residual beneficiary, the rules of Intestate succession (distribution without a will) will apply to the property not covered by your will. If you have a lot of assets or money, it is best to seek legal counsel in preparing a will. There may be some ways to protect your heirs through trusts and estate planning that cannot be covered easily or fully flushed out without legal representation. Even if you have few assets it is important to prepare a will. And if you own a home, having a will is a must. Don’t leave your spouse or loved ones with a mess after you die. This is your last chance to pick up after yourself, help their grieving process and ease the transition to life without you.
• This article is not intended to substitute for legal advice. If you need a will or advice on estate planning, you should consult with a licensed attorney.