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Without a will, who decides where a person's property goes?

Many District of Columbia residents may think that estate planning is only for people who are wealthy.  The perception is that the wealthy use their wills and other estate planning documents to avoid paying taxes.  This may be true, but taxes are not the only reason for having a will.

Without a will, a person's assets may not end up where he or she desired since the intestacy laws will determine to whom a person's asset are distributed.  Creating an estate plan will ensure that an individual's assets go to the people he or she desires.  Moreover, a person can outline how much each heir is to receive and under what conditions.

An estate plan does not have to be complicated to be effective.  A resident of District Columbia could leave all of his or her assets to his or her spouse in a will.  Some people also have life insurance policies and retirement accounts.  These assets pass by operation of law through the designation of a beneficiary.  Further, if there are minor children involved, having a will gives an individual the opportunity to choose someone to care for his or her children in the event of death. 

For these reasons and more, a will is essential for every adult -- even if a person does not think he or she has anything of value to pass on.  When starting the process of drafting and executing a will, that same individual may discover that additional estate planning documents are needed in order to carry out his or her wishes.  A variety of options are available to give anyone the peace of mind that his or her wishes will be carried out.

Source: CNBC, "Estate planning: Not just for the 1%", Ivory Johnson, Sept. 29, 2014

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