Most people don’t realize that while you might not believe you have much, some things still require legal authority to pass to family. Many assets, like bank accounts, stock, bonds, vehicles, and pistols cannot simply be given to someone when you pass, they require an order from the court granting a specific person the legal authority to transfer the title of these items. Many people also do not realize that if you do not have a Will prepared and properly witnessed, the State will determine how items are to be disbursed.
So let’s say you had two biological children, one that is alive at your death and one that has predeceased you leaving two children, and you have two step-children. You write on your list that you want the two step-children to have everything because the only time your biological daughter, Jean, would help you if you needed it was if she received just compensation. Roger’s, your deceased son, children have never known you as your son disowned you fifteen years ago so his children want nothing to do with you. Your step-children on the other hand have taken care of every aspect of your life. They have maintained your house when you could no longer make the simple repairs you once were able to, they shopped for you so you would have food to eat and when you could no longer care for yourself they hired help to assist them with taking care of you when they could not be there during the day so you could remain in your home as long as possible.
So now the time has come. The family finds your note on how things are to be distributed. There is no legally sufficient Will stating your intentions, simply an unwitnessed, unsigned note. Your step-daughter, Sally, and her husband, Rich, have always been there, helping you along the way and in your note you want her to be in charge and disburse your property to her and her brother, Bill. Unfortunately since Sally is not legally related to you, she has no authority to petition the Court to proceed on your behalf, but Jean does. Because your note is not what the Court or the State consider legally binding, they classify you as having died Intestate (without a Will). This means that once all your assets are collected and disbursed - maybe only a few dollars, maybe a few thousand - Jean and Roger’s children will divide whatever assets you had and your step-children, who have helped you all these years, will receive nothing.
So while you can absolutely leave your family a note regarding who will get what when you pass, is that really the best option? If you would rather have the necessary paperwork prepared and instituted, contact me today to discuss your estate and how our family at MCV Law can best protect your wishes.