By Sarah Siedentopf
A Last Will and Testament is an incredibly important document, in that it ensures your wishes are carried out after your death. For many people, the process of creating a will may seem daunting, or, some may be confused about the appropriate time to begin organizing their estate. Is there a “right time” to start thinking about creating a will?
Under Georgia Law, if you are 14 years or older, you are considered “of legal age” to create a will. (O.C.G.A. § 53-4-10(a): “Every individual 14 years of age or older may make a will, unless laboring under some legal disability arising from a want of capacity or a want of perfect liberty of action”). This may seem extremely early to start thinking about a will, but young people, just as adults, have possessions that they care about. They can have money, personal property, pets, etc. In the case of accidental or unexpected death, the courts have no way of knowing who should receive those possessions, unless specified in in a document such as a will.
There are other major life events which indicate it may be time to consult an attorney about your will. Purchasing a house is one example. When an individual owns a home, it changes the overall value of his or her estate. This presents the owner with additional questions about who they want to benefit from their estate, and how. The owner may also be afforded some tax planning opportunities, if the value of their house increases.
A person might also want to consider creating a will if they are getting married, or if they are divorcing their spouse. Both of these circumstances indicate significant personal changes, and accordingly, a will should reflect that. A person may want to identify a new beneficiary, alter an inheritance, or remove a beneficiary altogether. In the case of a second marriage, a person may want to balance providing for their new family while also making sure children from a previous relationship are well taken care of. Concerning wills and marriages, it is important to note that a will created prior to a wedding may be voided automatically upon the marriage unless the proper steps are taken. Additionally, in Georgia, the act of getting divorced changes the way the courts handle your will where it relates to your former spouse and this may have unintended results.
Another good time to consider creating a will is after having children. Under Georgia law, if a parent dies without a will in place, the child or children will still inherit part of the estate. However, the division of the property may not be as the parent preferred. With a properly drafted will, a parent can describe exactly how they want their estate distributed, and also, who they want to serve as guardians for their children (if those children are still minors). Without a will in place, the court will be forced to choose a family member or state-appointed guardian.
Finally, if a person is starting or has established a business, they might also consider creating a will. Having this document in place can help clear confusion and eliminate future power struggles, by specifying exactly how the business and its assets will pass to co-owners or other beneficiaries. Wills are especially helpful in situations involving family-owned businesses. It is important to keep in mind, though, that will does not trump LLCs or other business documents; the estate planning and business documentation needs to match.
Just as there are several instances in a person’s life in which they may consider creating a will, it is also important to make sure that the will is up-to-date and in accordance with their wishes. It is recommended that an individual re-visit their will every five or so years. There is a lot that can change in that time: new relationships, health status, new state and federal laws, or even a change in personal priorities. An effective will is one that is relevant and aligned with a person’s current circumstances.
If you are interested in creating a will, or have any questions about the process, please visit Siedentopf Law’s website at EstateLawAtlanta.com or call (404) 736 – 6066.
Sarah Siedentopf is an estate planning and probate attorney who helps individuals and families with wills, trusts, probate, and end of life planning. Her firm, Siedentopf Law, is conveniently located in the Buckhead/Brookhaven area. Sarah is particularly passionate about helping clients navigate complicat ed, emotional issues and making the process as easy and stress-free as possible. Sarah has earned a number of awards and honors in her legal career, including most recently the Super Lawyer’s Rising Star in Estate Law (2019), Daily Report’s Best Social Mediator (2019), Atlanta Legal Aid Pro Bono Star (2018), Thompson Reuter’s Lead Counsel Rating in Estate Planning (2018), and Atlanta Attorney at Law Magazine’s Attorney to Watch (2018, 2017).