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Estate, Wills, and Trusts
About Lesson

Your estate, when a will… won’t.

You have undoubtedly heard that it’s important to have a will in order to control the disposition of your property after your death. Although you are generally free to dispose of your assets as you wish, you may be surprised to learn that there are some restrictions that may vary from state to state, including:

Spousal Rights. If you are married, your spouse is generally entitled to receive a minimum share of your estate. If your spouse does not receive the amount mandated by law, almost every state allows him or her to take an election against your will.

Children’s Rights. If you have children, unless you intentionally disinherit them, some states allow them to receive at least the share they would have been legally entitled to if you had died intestate (without a will). Also, if you adopt a child or have a biological child after your will is executed, unless you have provided for that child in your will or he or she has received a share of your estate through lifetime gifts, some states entitle the child to receive the share he or she would have received if there had been no will.

Gifts to Friends. Perhaps you would like to leave your estate to a cherished friend. Your will may not be immune to challenges from biological relatives, who may have benefited if you had died intestate. To help guard against this, you may need to specifically disinherit family members.

Charitable Gifts. If you plan to bequeath a portion of your wealth to charity, bear in mind that some states limit the amount you may leave to charitable organizations at the expense of close family members.

Preparing a will is a step in the right direction to help ensure your assets are disposed of as you wish. However, it is important to be aware of restrictions that may prevent this from occurring. To ensure your will is properly prepared, it is best to consult a qualified, legal professional.

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