A Will and Revocable Living Trust are the foundation of your estate plan. New clients are often surprised by what they didn’t know about probate and the consequences of not having an estate plan in place.
What is a will?
A Will (or last will and testament, not to be confused with a living will) is a written, signed document that describes how your estate will be distributed upon your death. In Nevada, the maker of a Will must follow specific formalities that, if ignored, could result in the Will being invalid.
Why should I have a will drafted?
- Name a Guardian for Minor Children. If you have minor children, this is easily the most important reason for a will. In your Will, you can name a guardian to care for your children in the event of the death of both parents. This can help prevent a potentially nasty custody battle among your living relatives.
- Name a Personal Representative. The personal representative is the individual you entrust to gather your property and distribute your assets according to your instructions.
- Save Money. If done correctly, in your Will you have the option of excusing your personal representative from posting a bond. The expense of a bond often exceeds the cost of the Will itself. Eliminating this expense leaves more assets in the estate for your beneficiaries.
- Provide for Your Beneficiaries. A will, together with a fully-funded revocable trust, allows you to provide for current and future generations. Your Will can direct your personal representative to distribute tangible personal property like jewelry or other heirlooms to certain individuals, while pouring the rest of your property into your Revocable Living Trust. It is within the trust that assets can be disbursed under specific conditions and in the amounts and rate of your choosing.
What if I don’t have a will?
If you do not have a Will when you die, you have died “intestate,” meaning without a will. Depending on the size of your probate estate, your potential heirs will have to appear in probate court to seek the court’s assistance in distributing all probate assets. Probate assets are property that do not pass to a new owner or beneficiary by contract (like the death benefit on your life insurance policy) or by law (like real property owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship). Probate for an intestate person is the process by which a court distributes your property according to a strict formula known as “intestate succession.” The resulting distribution pattern of intestate succession is almost always different than what an individual would choose for himself or herself. In some cases, the result is startling. For instance, where an unmarried couple is in a relationship and one of the partners dies, his or her blood relatives will receive the entire estate. The living partner has no claim on the deceased’s property.
Also startling is the out of pocket cost for a probate matter. For a regular administration probate in Nevada, attorneys charge on average between $3,000 and $8,000. And that is assuming the process goes smoothly. Should a contest arise, or litigation with creditors become necessary, the fees can be much greater.
A Will, by itself, does not avoid probate, regardless of whether the deceased dies intestate. However, it does give you the ability to direct how your assets are to be disbursed. The best way to avoid probate court altogether and save your family the accompanying difficulties and stress is through a fully-funded Revocable Living Trust.