Family Law After Death - What To Expect When Drafting Your Will

Posted on: 2 September 2015

It's an unfortunate fact that everyone eventually dies, but avoiding it will only make your death harder on your loved ones. If you're worried about taking care of them after you pass on, you can allay your fears with the help of a skilled family lawyer. Before you pick up the phone to schedule a consult, however, it's a good idea to brush up on the basics of what planning your will entails.

Which Assets Aren't Covered In Your Will?

While most of your possessions and accounts can be passed on to the beneficiaries of your choosing, some assets aren't entirely yours to apportion. Joint accounts, for example, will automatically pass into the ownership of anyone else authorized the access the account. To pass on funds from a joint account, you'll have to move them into a personal account. On the other hand, you can ensure funds are passed on to a certain beneficiary by placing them in a joint account between you.

Some accounts and services already have a designated beneficiary and their own terms for how and when the beneficiary is awarded money. Trusts, retirement savings accounts, tax-free savings accounts, and life insurance policies will all be governed by their own set of rules after your passing, not by the will's guidelines. If you want to change the beneficiary of one of these assets, you'll have to do it in person with a representative from the bank or insurance agency.

Assets unaffected by your will can help keep your affairs organized after death. Since these accounts and services do not count as elements of your estate, you'll be leaving behind less paperwork for your executor.

What Is An Executor?

After you die, your estate will need immediate attention to smooth out any legal or financial kinks before your will can be read and followed. An executor is a person you appoint in life to serve in this role. Executors follow your written instructions for the discharging of debts, maintenance of property, and distribution of your estate to your listed beneficiaries.

When choosing an executor, it's ideal to vet several candidates. Family members and friends may not be impartial enough to follow your will if they stand to gain from your estate, as harsh as it may sound. To ensure your will is followed to the letter, consider taking one of these extra steps:

  • Appoint two executors to work together, instead of one. This makes it easier to keep the process fair between opposing family members.
  • Keep a backup in mind. Your first choice for the position may not be available or capable of performing his or her duties when the time comes. It's always prudent to be prepared for the worst.
  • Discuss the position with your chosen candidate. An executor who doesn't want to do the job may make a mess of your estate for your beneficiaries. If at all possible, avoid choosing anyone who doesn't feel honored to be considered.
  • Give your lawyer executive power. If your estate is complex and you want to avoid burdening your family or friends with the task of putting your affairs in order, having your lawyer walk the family through your will can make for a smoother apportionment process.

Your executor will serve as your voice after you're gone, so be sure to give your chosen person plenty of tips on what you want done with your will.

Can Your Will Be Changed After Death?

Yes, in some cases your will can be challenged in a court of law. For example, if your will is not written in the proper legal terms, or if it makes impossible requests, it may be considered totally invalid. In this situation, your estate would pass on to your next of kin or your spouse, who would then decide what to do with it. Your will can also be changed if it does not provide adequate benefits for your spouse and children. Benefits will be taken equally from all other beneficiaries and given to your surviving family if this happens.

Wills are vital for ensuring that your family and friends are not unduly burdened by your death. If you find yourself worrying at night about who will get your property and who will be looked after when you die, it might be time to contact a family law attorney. In just a short time, you could gain some serious peace of mind.