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If you have no dependents, you have no moral obligation to make a will but you also have greater flexibility to decide what type of financial legacy you want to leave behind. That is, you can feel free to make gifts upon your death to friends, lovers, relatives, or your favorite charities.

Before making a decision either way, you should first understand what will happen to your estate (i.e., your assets) if you die without a will. If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed to the family members described in your state's intestacy law. In Illinois, if you are unmarried with no children and you die without a will, your estate will be distributed to your next of kin in a prescribed order and in prescribed percentages. If you have no next of kin, your estate will pass to your county of residence or to the State of Illinois. There is no provision in the intestacy law for gifts to friends, lovers, or charities. Similarly, there is no intestacy provision to skip over your wealthy sister and give more or all of your estate to a financially struggling cousin.

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However, with a will, you can leave your estate to whomever you please in whatever amounts or percentages you desire. If you add trust provisions to your will, you can even attach "strings" to your gifts. For example, you could state that a gift in trust to your college-bound niece is to be used solely for her education expenses until she reaches age 25. Some animal lovers even leave gifts in wills and trusts for their pets to ensure that they are provided for after their death.

In addition to carrying out your wishes, a will can help prevent family disputes. In my experience, more estate squabbles occur not over divvying up a bank account, but over who gets the one-of-a-kind items, like family heirlooms. If you make it clear in your will who is to receive the sapphire ring that you inherited from Aunt Suzie, you will reduce the likelihood of family discord after your death.

In addition to stating who will receive what from your estate, a will also names the executor , i.e., the person or entity who will handle your estate matters upon your death. This can be important if you want to ensure that an untrustworthy or incompetent relative does not take charge of your estate.

Wills also can provide certain administrative cost savings if your estate is settled in probate court [More on probate and the particulars of those cost savings in a later blog post] . Depending upon the size of your estate and the types of assets you own, the cost savings can be significant. Dollars saved on lower costs can mean more dollars available for the executor to distribute to your beneficiaries.

Ultimately, only you can decide if making a will is the right choice, based on your personal feelings about the individuals and charitable institutions in your life that you will leave behind.

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Posted in Law Post Date 05/14/2016