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Are Wills Really That Important?

When my mother died in 2012, we discovered that her will was from 1959 and had not been updated to reflect the many changes in her life since then: she had four more children, she bought a house, furniture, an automobile, jewelry, and a dog. As a result, my mother died without a valid will. Following her death, bills had to be paid, property sold, her furniture, jewelry, the car divided, and someone had to take in the dog.

A valid will would have settled all of the “who gets what” questions, and it would have made the administration of her estate truly reflect my mother’s final instructions to us — her kids. A will would have saved us money as we could have probated her estate without having to post a bond. My mother could have picked whom she most trusted to administer her estate, to pay the bills, and to make decisions with regard to the sale of her house and her household goods, etc. Most importantly, a valid will would have given my mother control over who received special personal items and valuables, gifts that are often remembered most fondly. But, because she died without a valid will, the court chose the administrator to make these decisions.

What is so important about a will?

  • Wills allow you to name whom you select to be the guardian of your minor children following your death. If you have minor children or children that are disabled and will need future care, this is exceptionally important. Without a will, the court will decide among family members or a state-appointed guardian.
  • Wills can provide instructions regarding whom you specifically do not want to inherit from your estate. Without these specific instructions, a person you do not want to benefit under your estate automatically may be entitled to inherit from your estate under the law.
  • Wills limit the opportunity for conflict between beneficiaries (and those who want to be beneficiaries).
  • Wills outline how you would like your property and assets to be distributed following your death. (the “who gets what, when, and where”)
  • Wills allow you to pick the person whom you most trust to carry out the administration and distribution of your estate.
  • Wills limit the court from deciding what should happen to your assets after they die.
  • Wills avoid a long probate process, substantial court involvement, and save the estate money.

How do I make a will?

The best option if you need a will is to seek assistance from an attorney. For eligible clients, Legal Aid will prepare a will. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply.

Others can find names of attorneys who prepare wills by calling the local bar association attorney referral service. Lastly, you can complete forms online without help from an attorney. See a simple will form for Ohio at http://www.proseniors.org/pamphlets-resources/ohioonline-legal-forms/. ProSeniors also has a telephone hotline (800-488-6070) to assist low-income seniors with legal questions.

Wills requires us to think about our death — which is uncomfortable. But in making a will, we can protect and provide for those we love following our death. Wills, while allowing us to express our final wishes, most importantly serve to greatly benefit our loved ones by providing them with clear direction through their difficult grieving process following our deaths.

This article was written by Kate Fenner and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1 and reprinted with permission from The Alert, a publication of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

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