Many relatively young, healthy people like to think that death will come many years down the line. They further envision that they will pass away surrounded by friends and family, with peace of mind because they have made all necessary preparations for this eventuality. That is to say, they will make all necessary preparations – just not right now. Conversely, many elderly or terminally ill individuals experience significant fear and trepidation when subjects surrounding death are brought up and put off planning for their demise due to their discomfort with the idea. Similarly, many people with unique family dynamics try to address these dynamics early through estate planning. But when this planning becomes emotionally uncomfortable, they delay or abandon this necessary planning.
At the end of the day, you do a disservice to yourself and your family by not planning ahead. Life is full of surprises, and it can end in an unexpected instant. By drafting a will, you take the first and most critical step in the process of estate planning. You need a will because you deserve to have your plans and wishes honored, especially after you pass away and can no longer speak for yourself. The relatively small discomfort you may feel in starting your estate planning by drafting a will pales in comparison to the long-term discomfort you and your family may feel without any estate plan.
Many people wonder, “what is the worst thing that can happen if I do not have a will?” First, the State of Maryland will distribute your estate according to specific intestate succession rules. Married individuals often make the erroneous assumption that everything they own will go to their spouse if they die without a will. In fact, your spouse will only inherit you entire estate under intestate succession if you have no surviving children, grandchildren, or parents. If you have surviving minor children, then your surviving spouse is entitled to half of your estate – with the rest equally distributed amongst your children. If you have surviving adult children or surviving parents, then your spouse is only entitled to the first $15,000.00 of your estate, plus half of the remaining estate.
Maryland is somewhat unique in that the surviving spouse’s guaranteed share is not very large in most cases. As a more general concern, your children, adult or minor, will split their share of your estate equally and immediately under intestate succession. Suppose you have two children ages 20 and 22 at the time of your death and a $215,000.00 estate after the Probate Court takes out certain fees. If you do not have a will, then your spouse will receive $115,000.00 and each one of your children – probably in college – will receive $50,000.00. That might buy a lot of pizza and recreational beverages, but it’s probably not the outcome you would have desired. If you had a relatively-simple will which gave everything to your spouse, perhaps with minor gifts to your children, then your children would probably receive that money at a more appropriate time in their lives after the passing of your spouse.
Also, Maryland follows the “by representation per stirpes” rule on intestate succession. This means that your children will take equal shares upon your death, but it also means that your grandchildren will take their parent’s share if their parent predeceases you. Then, the grandchildren will equally divide that share. The more children your deceased child had, the less their child’s distribution will be. This can create potential situations of inequity.
For example, Pat and Chris are married and have three adult children – Jim, Joe, and John. Jim has one child, Joe has two children, and John has four children. Suppose Jim and John die, and then Pat dies one year later without a will. If Pat had a $615,000.00 estate, Chris gets $365,000.00. Joe gets $100,000.00. Each of John’s children gets $25,000.00 – their equal portion of John’s share. However, Jim’s only child gets $100,000.00 because that child does not have to split his or her share.
Reflecting on these examples, many individuals probably would want to deviate – in varying degrees – from the directed outcomes of intestate succession in the event of their death. The only way to insure a desired outcome for your estate is to draft a will. Otherwise, the State of Maryland will not enforce your wishes.
Aside from intestate succession, the biggest reason to have a will is that your family dynamic is unique. Every family situation is different and has different needs when it comes to estate planning. The only thing you can rely on is that your situation will change over time. If you have a terminally ill spouse or disabled child, you need to make sure they are allocated the proper resources for their support if you pass away. If you are now part of a blended family, you should thoughtfully, delicately discuss and plan your estate. If you are suddenly blessed with grandchildren, you may want to support their education; even if you might not be there in person to see them walk at graduation.
There are so many reasons why you should work with an experienced attorney to have a will drafted. Many times, drafting a will is the first step in starting a much more sophisticated, but necessary, estate plan. The question you should be asking yourself is “why don’t I need a will?” because there really isn’t a good answer. When you are ready to plan for your future, contact the compassionate, knowledgeable wills, trusts and estate planning attorneys at Altman & Associates. Come visit us at our convenient office locations in Columbia and Rockville, MD. Contact us by phone at (301) 468-3220 or to schedule a consultation.