We’d like to acknowledge the contribution of Stephanie M. Cokos to Brandon Legal Group’s Legal Scholarship, an essay competition.  While not the winner, the submitted essay certainly deserved publication in a public forum.

Stephanie goes to St. Petersburg College Paralegal Studies, Bachelor of Science Program

What are the benefits of having a Will?

It is a general conception of most individuals to think that estate planning is only necessary for the very rich, and not for the average middle-class family or individual.  This idea couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Time and time again, families are faced with the reality of the difficulties involved with the administration of a loved ones’ intestate estate, when proper estate planning could have solved a lot of problems.  A Last Will and Testament is a vehicle by which a person can direct how they want their children and pets to be cared for, their assets to be distributed and their bodily remains to be disbursed and make the lives of those they care about easier after they are gone.

A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) is a document that is executed by a “Maker”, which directs who they want to receive their tangible personal property and assets upon their death.  The Will also directs who the decedent wants to be the “Personal Representative” of their estate and what they want to be done with their bodily remains.  If a person dies “Intestate”, which means without a Last Will and Testament, their estate will go through Probate in the domiciliary state where they passed away and follow the laws of intestacy in that state.  The intestacy laws would vary from state to state.  However, the decedent may not want the property to be distributed to certain individuals who are their “heirs-at-law” or may want specific portions of their estate to go to certain individuals.  These specific wishes can be expressed in a Will and the Personal Representative will be obligated to carry them out according to the laws of that state.

Another reason why having a Will is important is to distribute personal property either in the Will itself or by way of a “Separate Writing”, which can be executed and accompany the Will.  A Separate Writing can list specific items of household furniture, vehicles, jewelry, and personal property that the decedent wants to be given to certain people.  For a decedent who had minor children, the Will directs who the guardian of the minor children would be if both natural parents of the child are deceased.  Additionally, the Will directs who would care for the pets of the decedent and can direct that a certain amount of money be distributed to the individual who will be caring for the pets. 

A more complex Last Will and Testament could have what is called a “Testamentary Trust” within it.  A Testamentary Trust is a Trust that is created upon the death of the Maker of the Will.  The Testamentary Trust is funded with the portion of the decedent’s estate that is directed for the beneficiary of the Trust and terms are outlined for how the Trust will be distributed to the beneficiary.  A Trustee is appointed within the Will who will serve as the Trustee when the Testamentary Trust is created.  A Testamentary Trust is a good way to ensure that beneficiaries who may be under a certain age, like 35 years old, do not receive a large sum of money when they are not mature enough to handle it.  Many parents feel better about the idea of a Trustee helping their child to manage and preserve the inheritance left behind if the parents are not alive to help their children.

The peace of mind that comes to a person who has their estate planning in order is well worth the time it takes to accomplish such planning.  It makes the grieving process so much harder when someone must deal with the death of their loved one and then deal with the drama the comes with the probate of an intestate estate.  Estate planning is one way that you can make the lives of your loved ones easier and be sure that they are taken care of when you are gone.  No matter what assets you have or who your beneficiaries will be, having a Will is a necessity!

We encourage all legal students to apply for our legal essay scholarship competition.   Winning comes with a no restriction cash award.  See our scholarship page for details.