Every estate plan should include—at the very least—a will. Wills are key to ensuring that your wishes will be honored after you pass, and that any assets you own will be disposed of as you see fit. This means that, with the help of a skilled estate planning attorney, you can make certain that those who you want to receive an inheritance do so—and that those who you do not want to receive anything don’t.
Without a will in place, this simply isn’t an option. Those who die intestate (which just means “without a will”) have no say over how their property in their name is disbursed nor to whom. It goes into probate, and the court will assign someone to disburse the property according to Virginia’s code on the matter (under Title 64.2). That means that whoever the state says should be in charge is who gets appointed, and worse yet, the state decides who gets the property in your estate, whether you want them to or not.
Now, granted, the state doesn’t go about things all willy-nilly. These particular laws are the result of hundreds of years of estate law. But what the state does do is make certain assumptions about who you would most like to receive your property on the basis of your legal relationship with certain people. For example, a spouse is highly favored in the law, as are children of direct descent. (Step-children and children born out of wedlock are special cases—and you definitely need a will in place to ensure they get what you would prefer.) And so on. All without regard to your specific wishes—because, when you don’t have a valid will in place, as far as the court is concerned you had no specific wishes. So it’s important to make a will that details who you want to be your beneficiaries.
But what if there is someone who would normally receive some of your estate who you wish to exclude from your will—can you do that?
The easy answer: yes, unless it’s a spouse. (It’s beyond the scope of this article, but if you are married and want to exclude your spouse, you definitely need to talk to an estate planning attorney.) The ability to define who gets portions of your estate also implies the ability to define who does not.
Even where a will has been made to include someone, that choice may be revoked—by updating the will. The reasons people choose to exclude family members from their estates are legion. Two of the more common reasons include:
Estrangement – You probably want your property to be passed on to those family you love and cherish, and who feel the same way toward you. If someone has become estranged from you, whether through their actions or simply by virtue of growing apart, it can make sense to exclude them from your will.
Gifts given – This sometimes comes up when you have already given a large gift to someone, like a child to help them start a business, and it wouldn’t be fair in your mind to leave them an equal share with your other children at your death. In this type of case, you could adjust your will to take the gift into account or simply leave the child out and acknowledge this is due to the lifetime gift.
Whatever your circumstances, our expert attorneys can help you create the will that reflects your wishes—whether it’s to include people or to exclude them, because a good will always does both.
Let Us Help With Your Will and Other Estate Planning Documents
If you’re considering creating an estate plan, a good place to start is by attending one of Promise Law’s free estate planning workshops. These workshops provide a great foundation of information that everyone needs to make sound planning decisions. Moreover, if you attend a workshop, you also get a complimentary one-on-one consultation.