Published on 06/02/16

Having a proper will assures your wishes will be followed, UGA Extension experts say

By Keishon Thomas

Singer, songwriter and performer Prince died recently, saddening fans across the globe. Reports estimate his estate to be worth approximately $300 million, and he died “intestate,” or without a valid will.

The passing of the “Purple One” saddened me, and I began to think about the number of people who do not have a will. My estate is not even in the ballpark of $300 million, but I do want to ensure my assets are distributed to my loved ones according to my wishes.

You may not have an estate like Prince's, but you probably still need a will. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension encourages Georgians to consider the following information, and to plan ahead.

Some Americans think that only super-wealthy individuals need wills, but truthfully, a will should be created by anyone who meets the required age limit, owns assets and wants to determine who receives their assets after their death. Dying without a valid will can cause emotional and financial headaches for those left behind, regardless of the value of your estate.

In addition to allowing you to decide who will receive your assets, a will also allows you to name a person to manage and oversee the distribution of your assets, called an “executor.”

There are four stipulations needed to meet the legal requirements for a will in Georgia:

  • You must be at least 14 years old.
  • You must be of sufficient mind and memory when you create the document.
  • The will must be signed by you and witnessed by at least two people who are not named beneficiaries in the will.
  • The will must be in writing.

Before you run out and scribble a will on a napkin, please keep in mind that a will not drafted by a lawyer may contain loopholes that can be contested in a court of law.

So what happens if you die without having a will? When a person dies intestate, state intestate laws govern how and to whom property is distributed.

You can also die intestate when you have a written will, as the will may be deemed invalid if you encountered life-changing circumstances – got married, had a child, adopted a child – but didn’t update your will. When a person dies intestate, it usually takes longer to settle the estate.

I have personally witnessed families pulled apart by fighting over estates. I have seen those battles last for years, with substantial estate assets wasted on legal fees. While there are a number of online resources for writing your own last will and testament, avoid pitfalls by hiring a lawyer to draft your will.

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.

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