Let’s suppose you are married with no children and have the following assets:
- A house.
- Two cars.
- A checking account.
- An IRA.
Let’s further suppose that the house, both cars, and the checking account are titled jointly, and your spouse is a 100% beneficiary of the IRA. One more thing: the house has a transfer-on-death deed, the two cars have transfer-on-death registrations, the checking account is Payable on Death (POD), and the IRA has a 100% contingent beneficiary, all to a brother that you love dearly (a decision that your spouse agrees with).
Do you need a will? Let’s see what happens in various scenarios. Scenario 1: you die; your spouse survives. Since everything is joint, it all passes immediately to your spouse, and the IRA pays out to her. Great (other, of course, than you being gone). Scenario 2: you and your spouse die at the same time (in a plane crash). Since everything has a form of POD, it all goes to your brother, and the IRA pays out to him as the 100% contingent beneficiary. Great, again.
What about all your “stuff”?
But there are also some not so great scenarios and issues. If your brother predeceases you, and you and your wife both pass, your property is distributed according to the intestacy (that is, without a will) laws of Indiana, which might place your property in the hands of people you never intended. In Scenario 2 above, your personal property is technically not accounted for. There’s no form of POD for personal property, which means that it also would pass according to intestacy laws. And even if you are very careful about getting everything that you can titled jointly and everything that you can titled with a POD provision, it’s possible that you will miss something. Perhaps you forgot about a bank account or forgot about some stock that you own.
Will as “safety net”
A will can remedy all of these issues. You can name who will take your personal property. You can name who will take in the event your brother predeceases you. And you can name who will take the “residue” of your estate (that is, everything that you own, including things you may have forgotten about). While there are possible scenarios in which not having a will might be okay, having a will is almost always preferable. It can and does act as a safety net. Let me help you make sure that all contingencies are accounted for.