What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that provides specific instructions as to how a person’s assets should be distributed upon his or her death. This article will touch on a few reasons why it is important for everyone, young or old, wealthy or not, to write a will.
Protect Your Family
Many young couples mistakenly believe that only elderly or very wealthy people should write a will. When speaking with young parents in their 20’s and 30’s about writing a will, the usual responses are, “Why do I need a will? I don’t own any property!” or “I’m not a millionaire, what do I need to worry about?” Unfortunately, many couples view their greatest asset as their home or the money in their pockets. The truth of the matter is that a couple’s greatest assets are their children.
Example: Joseph and Sara have been happily married for eight years. Although Joseph and Sara don’t own any property, they have three wonderful children and both work very hard to provide for them. One Saturday night, Joseph and Sara decide to hire a babysitter and enjoy a date night. They enjoy a lovely dinner at one of the city’s most exquisite restaurants. However, things begin to take a turn for the worse. While Joseph is cautiously driving home, his car is struck by a drunk driver travelling at 95 mph. Joseph and Sara are rushed from the scene to the nearest hospital, but unfortunately, they both don’t survive the night.
In a will, you may choose who you would like to be the legal guardian of your children in the event of your untimely death. Young parents assume that there is no need for this type of legal planning because there is an obvious choice for an alternative legal guardian for their children, and the courts will clearly see things that way. However, one of the most important lessons shared by estate planning attorneys is the fact that family relationships are often strained in the aftermath of a death. While it may not seem like a possibility now, in the aftermath of your death, different family members may begin arguing over the guardianship of your children. Taking away these uncertainties today should be a high priority for all parents.
Every couple with young children (especially those who travel together often) should consider writing a will. Without properly drafted wills naming the legal guardians of their children, the fate of Joseph and Sara’s three children rests in the hands of the courts which inevitably may cause the surviving family members (i.e. the grandparents) to argue as to who is better equipped to act as the legal guardian for the three orphaned children.
Avoid Potential Family Disputes
Often times, elderly couples need to be cared for, and the people in the best position to care for them are their children. Unfortunately, due to family responsibilities, business matters or other considerations, not all of an elderly couple’s children are always around to take on their fair share of the responsibilities, and some children may make more efforts than others. Elderly couples may desire to reward their “golden child” with a larger inheritance.
Example: Jacob and Rachel have been happily married for 52 years. They have two sons and one daughter, as well as many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Jacob and Rachel’s sons run successful businesses and are constantly travelling out of town. However, their daughter, Leah, diligently takes care of her parents. She comes to her parents’ house every day, helps them with errands, drives them to doctors’ appointments and handles all of their paperwork. Jacob and Rachel decide that they would like to give Leah something special. Jacob tells Leah, “Your mother and I have decided that after we’ve passed on, we would like you and your brothers to split our assets equally, but we want to give our home only to you as a token of our appreciation for all the care that you’ve given us.”
Without properly drafted wills that leave their house to Leah, Jacob and Rachel’s sons have an automatic legal write to share in their parents’ house, which may cause future arguments between Leah and her brothers. The last thing parents want after their death is to have their children argue over monetary possessions. The smart thing to do is to have a will that specifies how you want your assets divided upon your death.
About the Author: Isaac Yedid, Esq. and Raymond Zeitoune, Esq. are Partners at Yedid & Zeitoune, PLLC. The attorneys in the Trust & Estates Practice Group at Yedid & Zeitoune have a combined 15 years of legal experience and are ready to assist you with all your estate planning needs. The attorneys have consulted with many Orthodox rabbis and have obtained a p’sak halachah as to the proper way to write a halachic will in order to avoid the halachic problems mentioned above.
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