Imagine that you’re having a conversation with your mother, and she tells you that when she dies, you’ll get her house.
Then, 10 years later, you have moved out, but your younger sibling is at home and has a conversation with your mother. She tells your sibling that when she dies, they will get her house.
There was nothing written down to legally record your mother’s wishes, but you both know what you heard.
Oftentimes, purchasing a home is the biggest investment that many people make, so when there is trouble, either through death or destruction, protecting that investment should be the top priority.
“A will is a last testament that a person gives as to what their desires are after they pass away. I often like to think of a will as a love letter. It’s a last will of testament that a person has that they are basically saying to the person they have left behind how they want their assets distributed,” said George Henderson, a Prince George’s County based attorney, who assists people with end-of-life planning.
“When a person dies without a will, you have two people who may have heard the same story from the same person,” Henderson continued. “The person didn’t viciously do it, but they may have just forgotten. And so now you have an issue that has to go into probate which can be a very costly, expensive endeavor when it could have been very easily solved by having a simple will. In that will, a person expresses their desires after they die.”
With a will, someone is named as the executor of the will and has the responsibility of administering that will.
“A will that is well crafted will not only have the executor, but a person who will serve as the executor in the second seat in the event the first person named will pass away before the person doing the will passes away,” Henderson said.
When a will or other legal documents are not in place to specify what happens to property, it can be a lengthy process unless another person’s name is on the deed. In that case, when the first person dies, and another person is on the deed, that person takes full ownership.
But if only one person’s name is on the deed, the property goes into probate, the legal process that helps distribute assets and handle legal matters for a person who passes away.
Probate laws vary from state to state.
Henderson said it’s best to have an attorney when preparing a will.
“You need to get a competent attorney who is familiar with estate trusts and those types of things. Some people will go online and they will find a boilerplate will, but what you don’t know is that each state has its own rules and if you get a boilerplate type of will outline, it may not apply to your state,” he said. If you don’t have an attorney to review it then you can have a will that does not serve your purpose,” he said.
Henderson also explained that certain groups and attorneys have what is known as a “will questionnaire” that has information needed for a will.
But before a person dies, there are various ways to protect property through homeowners insurance, which protects consumers’ homes and personal property.
Insurance can provide a primary source of rebuilding funds. It also provides liability coverage for legal actions from injuries or damage from another person on their property. Additionally, most mortgage lenders require homeowners coverage, with the homeowner listed as the mortgagor, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
But even for homes that are paid in full, it’s important to protect the investment with insurance in case of loss.