Why do I need a will? (Or the case of the unintended consequences)

Here's what can go wrong:

“John”, a WWII vet, was at a point in his life where he needed assistance with the management of his everyday life. Step in a second removed cousin on his deceased wife’s side of the family who provided John with companionship, care and the help John needed with doctor’s visits, finances, grocery shopping, etc. John and the cousin referred to each other as Uncle and Nephew respectively. Nephew was the agent under John’s general power of attorney.


Several years later, Uncle peacefully passed away, leaving no will, and ostensibly, very few assets other than the contents of safe deposit box to which Nephew had access. Upon Nephew’s opening of the box, he discovered hundreds of U.S. savings bonds worth several hundred thousands of dollars! Prior to his death, Uncle told Nephew he could have whatever assets he had when he passed, but unfortunately for Nephew, he never put it in any form of writing.


Uncle’s side of the family was estranged. All of his siblings had predeceased him and most of their kids, Uncle’s nieces and nephews, had passed as well, leaving grandnieces and grandnephews who Uncle had never met.


With no will, and sizeable assets, a probate case had to be opened. The probate court required the identification of Uncle’s legal heirs – in this case not Nephew - but these long lost survivors of Uncle’s third generation. Now began an arduous and somewhat expensive multi-year search for these numerous heirs.


So in the end, the 3rd generation heirs received surprising windfalls from a great uncle whom they had never met, an outcome which could have been avoided had Uncle simply made a writing to memorialize his intentions. Uncle may have mistakenly believed that his power of attorney would suffice to transfer his assets to Nephew. Unfortunately, for Uncle and Nephew, powers of attorney are terminated at the time of death.


So the answer to the initial question is yes, most people should have a will.

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