Health & Safety

September 27, 2012

Do I need a will?

Capt. Jennifer Donahue
Legal Assistance Officer Office of the Staff Judge Advocate NTC and Fort Irwin

We often hear, “My commander told me I have to get a will.” In many cases, a will is not necessary, especially if you are unmarried, have no children, and want your parents to receive your assets. Also, it may not be necessary if you are married and want all of your assets to go to a spouse.

Additionally, a will tells the court what to do with your assets in a proceeding called probate. As with most court processes, probate does have a cost to it, including court filing fees and potentially attorney’s fees. You can sometimes avoid probate entirely by titling assets jointly and/or designating beneficiaries on bank accounts, life insurance and other assets; at your death, that money will go directly to the selected beneficiaries and basically bypass your will.

Each state has laws that declare what happens to your assets when you die if you do not have a will. Unless you have no living relatives, your money will not be taken by the state. It will usually go to your spouse, if you do not have one, then your children; if you have no children, then it goes to your parents, and if you have none, then your brothers and sisters, and so on. If you want your assets to go to individuals other than these or in a different order of succession, then creating a will would be appropriate.

You can pick up a will worksheet at the Legal Assistance Office, building 288, Barstow Road across from the Police Station. This worksheet helps to tell your attorney what you want your will to say. After your worksheet is completed, you meet with an attorney to make sure your preferences are appropriate for your situation and to answer any questions you might have. An attorney drafts your will, you review it to make sure it says what you want it to say, and afterwards you will execute (sign in front of a notary and witnesses) your will. Usually only the original signed and notarized will can be used by the court to distribute your assets, so please keep it in a safe location and do not write on, tear, take staples out, or in any way modify your will.

Many people are uncomfortable discussing their death and because of this discomfort, fail to make an estate plan. When you die, your family members have a very strong emotional burden to handle. If you do not have an estate plan, you might also be adding additional stress to your family in the form of a financial uncertainty or even a financial burden. Planning for your death and letting your family know about those plans is important. Also remember, that when you die, someone will need to know what assets you have and their location. You should keep a list in a secure location to which your main beneficiary has access.




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