Do you need a will and how to get one

Late one evening in December of 1967, gas station owner Melvin Dummar said he found a disheveled and dirty man lying along U.S. Highway 95, 150 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada. The man asked Dummar for a ride to Las Vegas. Dummar obliged and dropped the man off at the Sands Hotel. Dummar claimed this man was the multi-billionaire Howard Hughes.

Eight and a half years later, Hughes died, and a will surfaced which gave Dummar $156 million of the multi-billion dollar Hughes estate. This will was challenged in Nevada court, and after a trial lasting seven months, the Nevada court determined the will was a forgery. The court declared that Hughes had died intestate (meaning Hughes had died with no legitimate will.) For a summary of the events of this case, check out the Wikipedia entry on Melvin Dummar.

Dying Without a Will

In Pennsylvania, like Nevada, if you die without a will, you die “intestate.” In the case of an intestate death, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has laws in effect which will determine who gets your assets (your estate.) For example, in the case of a married man with children, his wife would receive one half of his estate, while the other half would be equally divided amongst his children. There are a number of other provisions depending on what relatives survive the deceased.

All of this and the Hughes situation can be avoided by seeking out a lawyer to prepare a simple will. The cost is usually under $100, and the benefits can be enormous.

What is a Will

A will is a legal document which tells all who survive you what you want to be done with your estate. It is basically a set of instructions. Those instructions can be very detailed or can be as simple as “all my assets to my wife.”

In addition to giving instructions on what to do with assets, a will can instruct how debts are to be paid and give instructions on funeral arrangements.

How do you Make a Will

You are the sole person who determines what goes on your own will, and that will need not be made public until your death and can be changed time after time until your death. Each subsequent will voids the prior will, hence the often heard term “Last Will and Testament.” Only the last one counts.

Despite the availability of “do it yourself” will kits both on the internet (e.g., “Legal Zoom”) and through other sources, it is advisable to seek the advice of an attorney when you want to put together a will. There are many questions a kit cannot answer but your attorney can.  For instance, some of the “do it yourself” kits rely solely on the user to correctly configure the kit for state-specific applicable laws. This can put an undue burden on a layperson and may not produce the most comprehensive and legally sound document possible. Many of the decisions you make in putting a will together can have significant tax and legal ramifications. These decisions are best made with the advice of an attorney.

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With more than 40 years of combined experience, the personal injury attorneys at Fellerman & Ciarimboli strive to provide the best service to clients in Philadelphia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and throughout the Keystone State.

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