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What happens to your assets if you don't have a will?

Previous posts have mentioned that Michigan is one state making progress on the simplification of estate administration and distribution of assets. Estate administration is hard enough without having to work around complex state laws and requirements.

However, reports continue to show that large segments of the population still fail to make estate plans at all, neglecting even the provision of a simple will.

An interesting survey mentioned recently in Business News Daily found that 50 percent of respondents with children did not have a will, and only 41 percent of respondents aged 55 to 64 had one. When asked why, the top three reasons were procrastination, believing there was no need for a will, and the cost of writing such a document.

At the same time, the surveyed respondents recognized in large percentages that wills can ensure that assets are distributed to the right people and prevent family disputes.

When a person dies without a will, he or she is legally deemed "intestate." In such cases, each state has intestacy laws to determine estate administration, which can include anything from distribution percentages of assets and personal property to identifying potential heirs. This situation can be especially troubling for people with minor children, in which case the courts determine who will raise the children rather the parents identifying whom they prefer in their wills.

Small business owners should also strive to avoid intestacy, as the state would determine the continuation of the business instead of the owner directing the transition in estate planning documents.

Michigan legislators should be applauded for attempting to simplify the probate code. But they can't make people take the first step. Most people probably know it -- they need to have a will; it's just a matter of taking the initiative to draft one.

Source: Business News Daily, "Thy Will Be Done Won't Be Unless You Have One," Ned Smith, March 30, 2012

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