How Your Will Affects Your Spouse, Children, and Pets: A Complete Guide

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Your Will is a crucial part of your estate planning, and allows you to protect your spouse, significant other, children, and other loved ones after you pass away. Even your pets can be included in your Will. Other estate planning documents, such as a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney, are essential documents that apply when you are alive.

An online Will keeps you in control of what happens to your assets and belongings; if you don’t have a Will, the state will decide how to distribute your possessions and even appoints guardians for your minor children if you die. 

When you have a Will, it has some significant impacts on your chosen beneficiaries, particularly your spouse (or partner) and children. Generally speaking, if you don’t have a Will and depending on the laws in your state, the state will give all of your remaining assets to your spouse, distribute them evenly among your children,a combination of both. If you are neither married nor have children, your assets will go to your parents or siblings, depending upon the laws of intestacy in your state. Also, without a Will, the court will appoint an executor of your estate, (called an administrator in the case of no Will). This person could be a stranger and will take control of all your assets and distribute your assets per the laws of your state. You will not have a say in it without a Will.

If you want control over the distribution of your assets, or you have complicated circumstances such as children from a previous marriage or you’re divorced with a new significant other, you should definitely have a Will to make sure your wishes are followed. 

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Your Last Will and Testament

Why You Should Review and Update Your Will Regularly

Even if you have a Will, it is very important to review the document regularly, and at least once annually to make sure nothing has changed that would impact your Will. You might have gained new family members (such as children or grandchildren), had relationships change, or bought or sold property and other assets.

A one-and-done Will does not work as life and laws change, and as we all know, life can change a lot in just one year. Revisit your Will on a regular basis, and be sure to update it to reflect the changes brought on by your life’s inflection points.

parents teaching young girl to ride a bike on residential street

Everyone needs a Will, and should update their Will and other estate planning documents regularly to keep them current and ensure complete protection for their loved ones. 

FAQs About Including Your Spouse, Children, and Pets in Your Will

Your Will has certain implications for your spouse as well as your children, if you have them. It’s particularly important to have a Will if you have minor children, so that you can make sure they are cared for according to your wishes if you pass away.

How Your Will Affects Your Spouse or Partner

When your spouse, partner, or significant other is one of your beneficiaries, there are things you need to keep in mind. The following Q&A will help guide you through the process to ensure your significant other’s protection and express your wishes in the event that something happens to you:

Since a Will reflects only an individual’s wishes, both you and your spouse need your own Will. However, the Wills are usually similar, where one spouse gives 100% of their assets to the other spouse and vice versa. If you died without a Will, and your spouse was already predeceased, your assets would then be split among your children, if you have them or your next of kin as per the laws of intestacy in your state.

Yes. Unless you legally divorce, they will still be considered your spouse and will therefore be entitled to benefit from your estate. In some cases, they might receive everything, even if you have a new significant other or children from another relationship.

The way you refer to your partner or significant other has no legal significance, so you can refer to them however you wish: partner, friend; girlfriend/boyfriend. You protect them by providing for them in your Will and you protect yourself and them by empowering them to act for you in other estate planning documents like a Heath Care Proxy and Power of Attorney.

It depends upon your state, but for most states you cannot completely disinherit your spouse unless you have an enforceable pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.

How Your Will Affects Your Children

If you have children, especially if they are minors under the age of 18, your Will is very important. Not only can you provide for your children as beneficiaries, you can ensure that they are cared for according to your wishes after your death, even if you pass away before they come of age. You can also set specific milestones for when they inherit, such as after they reach a certain age or benchmark, such as graduating from college or university.

The following Q&A will help you understand how your Will affects your children and steps you should take to make sure your Will reflects your wishes in regard to their care and their inheritance of your estate:

If you have minor children, it is important that your Will states who you want to serve as their guardian. If you do not nominate a guardian, the court will appoint someone without any input from you.

Yes, the legal system protects those who cannot protect themselves like minors and adults who lack capacity. The court seeks to make sure that the minor child’s inheritance is protected until they become adults. If it is a small inheritance, generally the court allows the child’s guardian to manage it. The court views adult children as capable of taking care of themselves and their own assets.

There is no legal difference, and when there are co-guardians, each has the same authority. Because of this, it is imperative that co-guardians get along. Like a marriage, when there is a disagreement between the co-guardians, they must either resolve it or seek court intervention.

A successor guardian will take care of your children if your first choice is unable or unwilling to do so. It is up to you to decide how many successor guardians you want to name. Gentreo allows you to name three choices of guardian, and any of these can have co-guardians (up to six people).

If you have an adult child with disabilities or special needs, you need to create a plan so that your child is protected, cared for, and financially secure when you die. Actions you can take include nominating a guardian/conservator for the child and establishing a special needs trust. This trust could be funded by a provision in your Will or you could fund it while you are still alive.

It depends upon how you wrote your Will. If your child dies before you and you do not have a Will, it would depend upon laws of intestacy in your state. In some cases, their share of your estate passes to their children and if your child never had any children, the share would be distributed among your child’s siblings.

Unless you have legally adopted your stepchildren, they are not considered your “children” and cannot inherit from you.  You can, however, include stepchildren in your Will.

A class is a way of referring to a group of people as they are related to you in the same way, such as children, grandchildren, siblings, or nieces/nephews. Unless you want to exclude a member of the class or you want certain class members to benefit differently, it is easier to just name the class. If you want to exclude one member of the class, then you have to name each member individually. Class also allows you to account for class members (i.e. grandchildren) who are not yet born.

Generally, you can exclude children from your Will but if you want to exclude a child or children, it is important to list their names in the Will so they cannot claim they were mistakenly left out.

How Your Will Affects Your Pets

While pets are not legally granted the same status as people, you can provide for your pets in your Will, by setting up a Pet Trust for your pets’ care or by giving your pets to your chosen loved ones, so that you know they will be cared for and loved. You can also complete a Pet Power of Attorney to provide for their care during your lifetime when you are unable to due to travel or illness.

No. Pets do not have the same legal status as people, and therefore, you cannot leave gifts to your pet in your Will. However, you can provide for your pet with a Trust or a Pet Power of Attorney to ensure they will be protected if you cannot care for them, yourself.

A Trust for your pet allocates funds to cover the costs of your pet’s care if you pass away. It includes normal daily care costs, such as food, grooming, and pet cleaning products, in addition to designated funds for veterinary bills and health care. A Pet Power of Attorney allows you to authorize someone to care for your pets on a short term or long term basis during your lifetime.  You can specify as part of your Pet Power of Attorney;  who will be the designated caretaker for your pet, which vet to use for health care and any emergencies, financial limitations on care; and even specific details such as your pet’s diet preferences, habits, and more.

In a Will, a pet is treated as property so all you can do is give your pet to someone. If you include a Pet Testamentary Trust in your Will, you can assign a caretaker for your pet and fund the Trust with assets to pay that person for the care of your pet. After your pet dies, the remaining Trust funds would go to the residual beneficiary you choose.

A Gentreo Pet Power of Attorney includes designation for your pet’s care when you cannot be there yourself. You can assign who will take care of your pet or empower a pet sitter or boarder to get the care a pet needs. Plus you can store pet insurance details and keep track of your pet’s medications, favorite foods, treats, walks and more.

You should choose the person that you trust the most who will be able to take care of your pets in your absence or incapacity. Important considerations are the proposed agent’s relationship with your pet, your agent’s availability to care for your pet, and the agent’s willingness to honor your wishes for your pet’s care.

Watch this video to learn more about Gentreo’s Pet Power of Attorney.

How to Name Inheritors & Beneficiaries, or Disinherit Individuals in Your Will

One of the primary purposes of a Will is to communicate how your assets and property, including pets, should be distributed to your heirs and beneficiaries after you pass away. You can also use your Will to make arrangements for the guardianship and care of your minor children, or express who should be excluded from inheriting anything from your estate.

What is the Difference Between Beneficiaries vs. Heirs

A beneficiary in a Will is any person, charity, organization, or institution that you select and name in the Will as the recipient of a portion of your estate. You can name whomever you choose, including family, friends, charitable or religious organizations, businesses or institutions such as schools and universities. Some exceptions apply, for instance, you cannot name a pet as a beneficiary, but you can set up a Trust for their care. Additionally, most states will not allow a person who is witnessing the Will to be a beneficiary.

Your heirs are different from beneficiaries in that they must be individual people, such as your children or your spouse, who are legally entitled to inherit your estate per the laws of your state. However, each state is different in how it regulates the distribution of assets to heirs, so it is always safer to have a Will that expresses your wishes.

How to Distribute Your Assets and Property to Your Beneficiaries

When preparing your Will, you may want to leave your assets to multiple beneficiaries. People typically do not leave their entire estate to one person, but this does happen. 

There are several ways to distribute your assets when you have multiple beneficiaries, so you will need to decide how you want to divide them: 

  • Equally – Give each beneficiary an equal percentage of your estate or give each class (children, grandchildren, siblings, etc.) an equal percentage within the class.
  • Unequally – Give a greater portion of your estate to one beneficiary than another.
  • Combination – Give a percentage of your estate to one beneficiary, and divide the rest equally between individuals or charitable/religious organizations you care about.

Your heirlooms and real estate property will usually be handled a little bit differently when distributing your estate to your beneficiaries. You can designate certain items to be given to a specific beneficiary, while dividing the rest of your financial assets equally. Or, you can decide to have all of your heirlooms appraised and then divided equally among your children or other beneficiaries based on each item’s value. Your executor or personal representative can set up a lottery to help beneficiaries get their choice of what they want. 

However, real estate bequests can get complicated, especially if there are multiple beneficiaries. For example, if you divide your property among your children in equal shares of interest, you will need to work provisions into your Will in case one child wants to sell their share. Your Will could require that the child who wants to sell must first offer the share to the other children for purchase, and if the other children refuse or are unable to buy out the child who wants to sell, the entire property would be sold and each child would receive their equal portion of the sale price.

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In your Will, you can designate certain items to be given to a specific beneficiary, while dividing the rest of your financial assets equally.

How to Account for Pets in Your Will

While you may have heard stories about people leaving their entire estate to their pet, in reality, it doesn’t work this way because animals do not have the legal standing to inherit property. However, you can provide for your pets in your Will by setting up a Trust.

In your Will, you can designate someone to care for your pet and/ or you can distribute money to fund a Testamentary Trust for the care of your pet. While a Gentreo Pet Power of Attorney assigns care and financial support for your pet during your life, a Testamentary Trust for your pet is created and funded upon your death. 

With a Pet Testamentary Trust, a trustee is appointed to manage the funds you set aside in the trust for the care of your pet (such as food and living cost, pet health care and veterinary bills, etc.). In addition, your Pet Testamentary Trust has to include a residuary provision for what happens with any remaining funds after your pet dies. You can do what you want with any remaining funds, for example, you could have the funds donated to an animal shelter or pet-related institution, or you can give the remaining money to the assigned caretaker. If the funds in the trust are used up before your pet passes away, the Corpus (body) of the Pet Testamentary Trust is dissolved, and the caretaker you assigned can choose how to care for your pet moving forward. 

Read More: Gentreo Pet Power of Attorney

How to Disinherit Individuals in Your Will

Although one of the main features of a Will is distributing your assets to your chosen beneficiaries, you may also want to exclude or disinherit someone who the state might normally consider to be an heir. You may want to do this if you had a falling out with a sibling, or one of your children acted in such a way that you don’t want to put your estate at risk by giving them resources if you pass away. 

A Will gives you the power to leave your assets and possessions to people of your choosing, or exclude or disinherit anyone else. Most states also allow you to disinherit a child.

In order to exclude someone from being a beneficiary, you have to specifically state the exclusion in your Will. Otherwise, they may be able to successfully contest that they were mistakenly left out. For example, this sort of provision may say something like: “I intentionally leave nothing to my [relative], [First Name, Last Name], because [reason].”

Why You Need a Will to Control Distribution of Your Assets

If you die without a Will, it is called dying intestate. As a result, your assets and property are distributed in accordance with your state’s law of intestacy. This means that someone whom you would not have wanted to get anything from your estate could actually end up with most or all of it. For this reason alone, everyone should have a Will.

Read More: Putting Off Creating Your Will Could Be Disastrous

Creating a Will gives you the power to distribute your assets the way you want. Regardless of what you do with beneficiaries, it is always a good idea to have an open conversation with your family members and explain what you are doing and why. It is also important to share your Will in a format that cannot be changed (such as in your Gentreo Digital Family Vault) so that the person(s) you name have access to your most current and up-to-date Will and it can be easily found and shared with necessary parties in an emergency situation.

For more information, visit us at Gentreo.com. We can help you create a simple and affordable health and estate plan, and provide a safe place to store it.

Gentreo is not a law firm or a substitute for a law firm, or attorney, or an attorney’s advice or recommendations.

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