It’s always useful to have a signed will in your drawer in case something unexpected happens, but if you’re the procrastinating type and only want to get a will when it’s absolutely necessary, then the following five dates should be your deadline for setting up a will.
Once you get married, everything you own will transfer to your spouse upon your death (minus a few exceptions if you have kids from a prior relationship). If you have strong ties with your family and want to leave some of your property to your siblings or nephews or aunts, then you may want to sign a will when you get married, specifying what should go to your spouse and what should go to your family members. If you have kids from another relationship and want to leave them everything, then you’ll need to prepare a will stating so. If you miss the wedding deadline and die without a will, then you won’t be able to leave your property to anyone but your spouse.
Once your child is born, you need to start thinking about who will take care of your child if you and the second parent both die unexpectedly. One of two things can happen: (1) you choose the person whom you know will be the best at raising your child and name them as a guardian in your will, or (2) a Judge will appoint anyone as guardian so long as there are no objections. Typically, Judges will not appoint complete strangers as guardians, but if your long-lost cousin pops up and asks the Judge to become the guardian and no one in the family objects or offers to be the guardian, then a Judge may go ahead and appoint this person to raise your kids (and as a by-product get access to your assets). While you don’t need to sign a will on the day your child is born, if you wait too long, you might miss the deadline and die without naming a guardian.
When you divorce, your ex-spouse no longer automatically inherits your property. However, if you have kids with your ex and you die, then your ex will likely get access to all of your property since minor children cannot receive inheritance outright. If your ex is a good person, he/she might put your assets in a savings account and a storage locker for when the kids are old enough to inherit and use the property. If your ex isn’t so great, your ex could also just spend all of your assets while the children are minors, leaving nothing for them once they turn 18. If you execute a will by the divorce deadline, then you could name another individual to be the children’s custodian who will be responsible for safe keeping your assets until the kids are old enough to inherit them outright, limiting your ex’s ability to get his/her hands on your property.
Real estate is often the biggest asset a person owns, so when you die, it should go to the person who treated you the best or whom you think deserves it the most. Without a will, your home will transfer to the following individuals in the following order:
if married, to your spouse;
if no spouse, to your kids;
if no kids, to your parents;
if no parents, to your siblings;
if no siblings, to your grandparents;
if no grandparents, to your aunts and uncles;
if no aunts and uncles, to your cousins; and
if no cousins, to the state.
Not everyone in these categories deserves to receive your home that you worked so hard for. If when you die, you have no spouse or kids or living parents, then your siblings will all inherit your real property in equal shares. You might not want that. You might only want one sibling inheriting, or all but one, or all but in unequal shares. You might want your friend or your partner or your mentor or your mentee to inherit it all. If you miss the real estate purchase deadline and die without a will, then people who don’t deserve your house might end up selling or living in it.
Nothing makes us think of death as much as being seriously ill. At no time is a will more necessary than when you know you are about to die. If you’ve ignored all other deadlines, being terminally ill is the absolute last deadline you have to make a will to determine what happens to your property when you die. Be careful. If your illness will render you mentally incapacitated, such as late stage Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s, then you should sign a will as soon as you can because once you are deemed incapacitated, you lose the power to make a will and have to rely on default state rules to govern your estate.
Are you nearing any one of these deadlines but haven’t signed a will yet? Reach out to us, so we can help you fix that.