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Actress Anne Heche at NBCUniversal's 2014 Summer TCA Tour.Many people delay the conversation or thoughts of having to prepare a will. Confronting the possibility of one’s death is not easy. However, as the recent death of Anne Heche shows us, not having a will can place a significant burden on your children and cause undesirable complications. Even if difficult, planning ahead may be a better solution than the alternative.

What Happened With Actress Anne Heche?

Anne Heche’s case is a good example of why a person may want to consider creating a will sooner rather than later. Heche was divorced with two children from different relationships when she passed away. Her eldest son is 20 years old, but her younger son is still a minor.

Although they are assumed to be her sole heirs, only her oldest son is of age to administer her estate. He has filed a petition for a guardian ad litem to be put in place to protect his younger brother’s interests. The guardian ad litem may be a financial burden to Heche’s estate, and the costs of securing this professional will potentially reduce the assets available to her sons.

Even though her eldest son is dealing with his mother’s estate, this is undoubtedly very difficult for a person to go through at such a young age. Heche’s eldest son likely will not be able to do this all on his own and will need the services of a probate attorney — likely further increasing the costs of administering her estate and depleting how much is left for her children.

It has also been reported that an inventory and appraisal of her estate is needed to determine its worth and what assets she had. This process requires further professional involvement and fees that her estate must pay. In addition, it is possible that the father of her youngest son may seek to intervene in the estate’s administration to ensure he is treated fairly. Litigation costs could rack up quickly if there is any disagreement related to this.

Preparing a will and other estate planning documents can make legal proceedings significantly less complex and expensive and keep your situation as private as possible. It can also make it easier for your loved ones to know exactly what you want to happen to your assets and possessions.

Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will?

Many people do not realize that if you pass away without a will, your local state laws on intestacy will determine who qualifies as your heirs and inherits your property.

For example, in many states, if a person passes away unmarried but with children, the children will inherit everything. But what if the person had a long-term partner or was engaged to be married? They may have wanted their significant other to inherit some of their assets, but a “default” state law may lead to a different result. Or, what if you have no living children, siblings, parents, or spouse? Your property may go to the government instead of friends, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. Having a will prevents these scenarios from happening.

Choose a Guardian for Your Children

Another benefit parents should consider is their ability to choose a guardian for their children in advance.

This matters, for example, when the other parent is not living or cannot be located. If a person does not set forth their wishes ahead of time, multiple parties may step up after a person’s death and argue over who should care for any minor children.

A court may be tasked with making this decision, and it may not be what you would have wanted. This can be expensive, traumatic for all involved, and a long process. Courts will generally try to appoint the individual a person has selected if your wishes are in a will or other planning document.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that having estate planning documents in place makes your wishes more likely to be honored and less likely that a court will decide what happens. This is also true where you may be incapacitated and unable to voice your wishes. While Anne Heche’s situation is not unusual, it is avoidable.

For information on preparing a will or other estate planning documents, contact your attorney. 

Photo credit: Mingle Media TV

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