When I speak before a civic group or a neighborhood association, I usually can hear someone whisper in the back ground, a "I don't need a will. I just came tonight because of my wife (husband, daughter, son, girlfriend--you can insert lots of persons or reasons here)"
Let us look for a minute at the reasons people think they do not need a will to see if they are right.
"I don't need a will because---my spouse and I own everything in joint names". This is a pretty good reason for not needing a will but let me ask you this. When you travel who do you travel with? I can almost bet that 99% per cent of you will say your spouse. What if you are driving down the road and are in a major accident and both of you get killed? Does it really matter then that you and your spouse owned everything jointly? What if it was your second marriage? Suppose further, that you both had children from previous marriages? Wouldn't it be awful if the State decided whose children got to inherit?
"I don't need a will because---I don't own anything". This is the second most common reason people give for not needing a will. Do you own a house? It is surprising, but a lot of people don't seem to count their home, which is probably the largest asset in dollar value that people own, as "something I own". There are very few people that do not own or have the potential of owning anything! Literally, you are talking about "street people" when you are talking about people who do not own anything, not your everyday middleclass person who thinks they own nothing. Imagine this scenario. Your mother is widowed, living on social security in a rental apartment with no savings--basically living from day to day. Imagine further that your mother breaks a hip and is sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation after surgery. While in the nursing home your mother develops an infection in her right leg, which becomes so bad that the doctor recommends amputation and she is transferred to the hospital for this purpose. The day of the surgery arrives and the nurse in charge of getting Mom ready for surgery indicates on her paperwork that the LEFT leg is to be amputated. The surgeon, having had an equally busy day, does not notice the error and the left leg is removed. Later, the right leg must be removed in order save your mother's life, after which, due to an infection that goes untreated, leads to your mother's death. What if? What if? You may be saying that something like this is so farfetched that it could never happen? Right? Wrong! The facts above are from an actual case and, due to the negligence of the nursing home, the doctor, and the hospital, this little old lady living on social security left a very large estate due to the actions of others.
Let us take this tale a step further. Your Mother had two children, you and your brother, who left home more than thirty years ago at that time addicted to drugs and cursing his mother. Brother has never contacted Mom in over thirty years but you have always been there for her when she needed you. Who do you think your mother would want to inherit her unfortunate wealth? I do not think Mom would want your brother to have one half of an estate for which she suffered so greatly, do you? To change the facts a little, you are not the son but a cousin, the only family Mom has know for years. If there is no will, there could be, dozens of cousins who will share the estate with you, at least that is the case in Florida where I live and practice law. You may say this is unfair. YOU were there when Mom needed you for all those years but where were these greedy cousins? I say this is unfair BUT IT IS THE LAW. How do we prevent this? A WILL!
"I don't need a will because---I am just getting started in business, I have a wife and two small children; I don't have an estate yet". Other than when an older person is entering the hospital for surgery or preparing for a long trip, I most often get calls for a will from young married couples with children. What if both spouses are killed in a car wreck? Who will get custody of the children? Will there be a battle among the grandparents or aunts and uncles? Wouldn't you rather have a say in who raises your children if you aren't around to do it. YOU decide. Don't leave it up to a judge. Other than who will actually take your children into their home to provide their care and education until they reach majority, what if you do leave a large estate. Unless you provide for this in a will, you could subject your children's funds to the Court where a guardianship would be set up to handle any monies you left your children. I have found, in my jurisdiction at least, that guardianships are very expensive and time-consuming, bear a lot of paperwork and often involve intrusion by a guardian who is not a family member and who will literally control your children's fortune for years. You can make the decision to prevent this from happening, All you need is a will.
Do you still think you don't need a will? Answer honestly. Most lawyers will prepare your estate plan for a surprisingly low fee. Do you want to make your final bequest---or do you want the Courts or laws of your state to make it for you?