Why Do I Need a Will?

Many people understand that a will acts as the roadmap for distributing someone’s assets upon death. However, not everyone realizes that a will does much more than specifying who receives what. Some of the other important functions that a will can serve include the following:

  1. Nominate a Personal Representative. The PR collects the assets of the deceased, pays debts and expenses, creates an accounting, and ultimately distributes estate assets. We encourage clients to nominate primary and backup PR’s in case the initial choice cannot serve.
  2. Designate a Guardian for Minor Children. Otherwise CO law dictates priority for appointment.
  3. Establish Trusts for Minor Children. Leaving assets outright to minors can create a variety of legal complications. Using a trust can eliminate contested court cases over who manages money left for children and how it is used.
  4. Planning for Blended or Non-Traditional Families. The default asset transfer laws may be radically different than someone expects when parties re-marry, have children from other marriages, or treat each other as married but are not legally recognized as married by the state.
  5. Make Donations and Gifts. Wills can direct donations to educational, charitable or religious organizations before the remainder of the estate is distributed.
  6. Minimize Estate Taxes. Well-drafted wills can minimize estate tax obligations by maximizing state and federal tax exemptions.

Unless these items are spelled out in a will, they could lead to disagreements after a loved one’s death. Even if someone believes that they only have a modest amount of assets or that having a will isn’t “worth it,” I see time and time again in my probate administration work how not having a will leads to lengthy and costly fights among survivors that could have otherwise been avoided.

When I meet with clients to prepare wills, we carefully review how their assets are titled and beneficiaries are designated to confirm that plans are comprehensive and coordinated. We also typically prepare the following Advanced Directives:

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. Appoints an agent to make financial or property decisions. The POA can be made effective immediately (standing) or upon the individual’s incapacity (springing).
  2. Medical Power of Attorney. Appoints an agent to act with respect to medical decisions when individuals are unable to make those decisions themselves.
  3. Living Will. Gives specific end-of-life direction to health care providers in the event that an individual is unable to communicate due to loss of consciousness.
  4. HIPAA Releases. Allows an individual’s medical POA to obtain important healthcare documents from medical service providers.

Our firm works with clients to develop customized estate plans based on each individual’s unique circumstances. Contact me to review your existing documents or to prepare new wills and related documents for you and your family.

Mike Smeenk is an attorney in the law firm of Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein, P.C., a Colorado law firm. His practice areas includeEstate Planning, Trust and Estate Administration, Real Estate, and Corporations. Contact Mike Smeenk.

Disclaimer — Content is general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter, nor does its publication create an attorney-client relationship. Laws vary from one state to another. For legal advice on a specific matter, consult an attorney.

MICHAEL A. SMEENK