A recent business article claims that everyone in America should have a valid Will before reaching the age of 40. Although my picture to your right is similar to Dorian Gray in the respect that it never ages – we all do. So let’s talk about why it’s important to have a valid Last Will and Testament.
When you die without a valid Will (i.e. intestate), a probate court takes the power out of your hands to decide how your assets are divided. The legal process begins when the probate court appoints a person or firm to address any claims against the estate. The court uses the assets of the estate to pay off any debts, estate taxes, or fees/liabilities – and then divides the remaining assets according to New Mexico law.
Your estate enters probate whether you die intestate, or with a valid Will. Probate is the process of transferring a deceased’s property and assets to beneficiaries. The key difference between dying intestate and with a valid Will is the fact that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes – not New Mexico law.
As a brief overview, under New Mexico law, when you die intestate your assets are divided as follows:
- If you have CHILDREN but no SPOUSE, PARENTS, or SIBLINGS = CHILDREN inherit everything.
- SPOUSE but no CHILDREN, PARENTS, or SIBLINGS = SPOUSE inherits everything.
- PARENTS but no CHILDREN, SPOUSE, or SIBLINGS = PARENTS inherit everything.
- SIBLINGS but no CHILDREN, SPOUSE, or PARENTS = SIBLINGS inherit everything.
- SPOUSE and CHILDREN = SPOUSE inherits all of your community property and ¼ of your separate property. CHILDREN inherit ¾ of your separate property.
- SPOUSE and PARENTS = SPOUSE inherits everything.
- SPOUSE and SIBLINGS but no PARENTS = SPOUSE inherits everything.
As you can see, the probate process is rigid and inflexible when one dies intestate. Most importantly, the process is robotic and heartless towards the myriad of reasons that could influence your desire to see property and assets divided between specific family members, loved ones, or friends according to your wishes – not according to archaic laws.
Virtually everyone reading these words knows that the artist known as Prince passed away last year. Few know that Prince died without a valid Will, creating a financial fiasco as his entire family – and over 200 individuals claiming to be his undocumented love child – have used the legal system to fight over his considerable assets. A valid Will would have enabled Prince to distribute his treasure trove of assets according to his wishes – in stark contrast to the Willy-Wonka circus that encircles his estate, with family members feuding over a slice of his personal estate.
But you’re not required to be royalty, loaded, or the artist formerly known as Prince to need a valid Will. Having a Will enables you to place the distribution of your assets into your own hands, while fighting off avoidable family feuds that can result from diving property and assets through a rigidly defined legal process.
Would you like to control how your assets are distributed when you pass? Do you have assets or property that you want a specific family member or friend to receive? Are you okay with the possibility that all of your assets may land in the hands of an undeserving person? Do you have one family member that needs/deserves your assets more than another?
No matter your age or the size of your estate – you probably need a Will more than you initially thought.