Many people are fearful of contemplating their own deaths. However, it is important to prepare an estate plan to control the disposition of your assets. If you do not to create an estate plan and die without a will, the disposition of your assets will be governed by the intestate laws of the state in which you live.
Many people believe that state intestacy laws will transfer all of their property to pass to a surviving spouse. However, this is not the case in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
If you die while married with no children but a living parent or parents, your surviving spouse is entitled to the first $30,000 of your probate estate, plus one-half of the remainder, and then your parents receive the other one-half. If you have children from a prior relationship, the surviving spouse is only entitled to half of the probate estate and the remaining one-half will be divided among your children or their issue.
A surviving spouse is entitled to the entire probate estate if the decedent is not survived by parents or children. Additionally, the surviving spouse is entitled to the entire probate estate if the children of the decedent are also the only children of the surviving spouse. If there are surviving parents of the decedent or children born outside of the marriage of the decedent and surviving spouse, the amount the surviving spouse is entitled to will varies.
Apart from ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your wishes, a will is especially important if you have minor children. In a will, you can nominate a guardian for your children in the event there is no surviving parent of the children. You can also ensure that your children do not receive a lump sum of cash upon turning 18 years old. A will with trust provisions included can provide for distributions to your children for their health, education and support. Assets can be provided to your children not based on age of majority, but upon the children attaining certain ages. A will can also provide for a surviving spouse during his or her life time and leave the remainder to the children.