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Wills help plan for inevitable
By Capt. Kristina Penta, Kadena Law Center
/ Published May 22, 2007
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --
Planning for the inevitable death gives many people peace of mind and ensuring your loved ones are better off. You plan and make a will so that your desires are recorded and your property will be disposed of as you want. Without a will, years could pass before your property is awarded to your heirs, or it could be transferred and distributed in ways you do not want. A will can save you and your heirs money, provide for children of previous marriages, nominate a guardian for minor children, and establish guidance regarding your estate.
One benefit of having a will is that you can name the executor of your estate. The executor is the person you designate to take care of your affairs after you die. The person you trust to do the right thing with your estate is the person you should name as your executor. You know best who has the best head on his or her shoulders; do you want to leave that up to a court to decide? If you don't name an executor in a will, a court will make a determination on naming someone to administer your estate. This may result in things happening that you didn't intend to happen, or belongings going to places you didn't want them to go. Naming an executor in a will gives them the authority to handle your affairs, thereby reducing the burden on your survivors and simplifies handling your estate.
Do you have to have a will? The short answer is no. But the better answer is that many factors should be considered, and then make the choice on whether to make a will. Some things to consider when deciding to make a will are your marital status, children, assets, and possessions. Additionally, you may want to disinherit someone, or include a non-family member who would not inherit your estate if you died without a will. As for marital status, anyone currently or previously married should seriously consider making a will.
Even if you were never married and are currently single, making a will may benefit your survivors by letting everyone know where you want your possessions to go; otherwise the laws of your state of residency will determine who in your family gets your things. If you have any children independent of your marital status, you should make a will. If you don't have a will that names a guardian, it will be left up to a court to determine who takes care of your children. Unless someone challenges your nominee for guardian, a probate court will usually approve your named guardian. It is better to name an individual rather than a couple, just in case the couple splits up. It is also advisable to name an alternate guardian in case something happens to your first choice, or he or she declines to act as guardian.
So by now you think only married people with children need a will. Not so! Consider Airman "Jones." Airman Jones is young, single, and has no children. But he doesn't want his father to inherit anything, and his mother is long gone. If Airman Jones wants his belongings to go to certain people, the best way to make that happen is by saying so in a will. Otherwise, the mother he hasn't seen in years could suddenly show up and be the proper person to inherit everything. So even if you're young and single, you may need to disinherit someone, or just make sure certain people get certain things.
What about people with children from previous unions? Consider SSgt "Smith." SSgt Smith was married and had a child with her previous husband. They are now divorced, but the child lives with his father. SSgt Smith remarried and her new husband, TSgt Smith, has custody of his child from a previous marriage. Blended families like this are not unusual in our society today. This family may have more considerations when making their wills, and should seek assistance from an attorney who can advise them on these matters in writing the wills.
Consider another situation. In this example, the man had been divorced twice and was married to his third wife when he died without a will. He had children from each marriage. Who inherits all of his estate when he died without a will and did not leave anyone any instructions? That was all left to be determined by a court who did not know him and his family. It was incredibly rough on his survivors. The court system is still sorting it all out many months after his death.
If you're not sure you need a will, the best place to start is by talking with an attorney who can answer these questions and properly advise you. An attorney will help you examine your particular circumstances, and then advise you on making a will. Take advantage of this free benefit that you have as an active duty member, family member or DoD civilian while you're here at Kadena. You may see an attorney at the Kadena Law Center in building 15 for walk-in legal assistance on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 10 a.m., or on Tuesdays from 1 to 2 p.m.