Ask the Probate Judge—Why Do a Will?
By Merri Rudd, appeared July 26, 2001 Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
Question: I don't own a house or anything of great monetary value. Why do I need a will? K.H., Albuquerque
You might need a will for many reasons: peace of mind; controlling how your property is distributed after you die; choosing a personal representative to handle your estate business; naming a guardian for a minor child; making arrangements for the care of a disabled child or adult; establishing a trust for children or grandchildren; or setting up a trust for the care of your pet.
A will would also allow you to use New Mexico’s "separate list of tangible personal property" provisions. These are often the items that families fight over—the furniture, musical instruments, jewelry, and knickknacks. Additionally, a will could provide direction in the case of the simultaneous deaths of a married couple.
Some people make wills to be kind and generous, leaving assets not only to family members, but also to friends, employees, churches, synagogues, or charities. You cannot do so unless you have a will. If you die without a will, state law gives your assets to specific family members.
Others create wills that are spiteful. Heinrich Heine’s (who died in 1856) will stated, "I bequeath all my property to my wife on the condition that she remarry immediately. Then there will be at least one man to regret my death."
Still others have wills that exercise control from the grave. Their wills might protect a child’s inheritance from his or her own bad spending habits, earmark it for certain purposes, or do tax planning.
You may think you do not need a will because you own little or your assets are all held in joint accounts, joint tenancy, or beneficiary accounts. However, you might acquire future assets through inheritance, gift, or by winning a lottery (admittedly a long shot). Putting your wishes in writing through a valid will or trust helps to ensure that your wishes will be known and honored after your death. Just make sure your personal representative knows where to find your original will.
Remember that property held in joint tenancy and property passing to a named beneficiary are not affected by a will. Such property usually passes automatically to the survivor or named beneficiary without a probate and without regard to the terms of the will.
© 2001, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved