By John M. Hart, III, Esq.
At the end of April last year my life changed forever, yet again. As we get older, many of us are fortunate to experience incredible milestones. For me, I’ve been lucky to encounter several. My chosen educational path has provided me with many events to celebrate, including college and law school graduations, simply enduring through the bar exam, and finally passing the bar. Through my faith, I received the prerequisite sacraments, all accompanied with a party. But then things got real.
In October of 2018, I finally was able to solidify a date to celebrate as an anniversary with my wife instead of constantly trying to determine which was the most important date of our relationship (first time we met, first time we went on a “date”, first time we made our relationship Facebook official, etc.). On October 5, 2018, all those immaterial dates were fortunately shadowed by our nuptials, and another milestone went in the books.
But getting married was different. This milestone changes you because it’s no longer about just you, like every event before it. Now you share a moment in time with someone else and your obligations shift. After October 2018, my life wasn’t my own– I had to make decisions that would affect both myself and my wife.
And then on April 29, 2021, my son was born, and that event really put my life’s decisions into perspective. The moment my wife bestowed upon me and this world our beautiful boy, another milestone came and changed my life–again different from previous milestones–in that it wasn’t just about me but about my very own family.
As an estate attorney, these are important events because they constantly remind us that our decisions in life don’t just affect us but also the one’s we love. It may or may not come as a surprise, but most people do not have a will. This isn’t because they don’t need one. Rather, it’s usually because they don’t realize when they should get one.
Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you own a home? Do you have assets? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then yes… you should have a will.
The problem is that even the thought of a will is by its very nature, morbid. Nobody wants to think about the end. I know I don’t. But the truth of the matter is that we need to think ahead. And a will is a tool that helps our loved ones once we’re gone.
It can be seen as an utmost sign of selflessness. It can be used to help our family. And for those who live for spite, it can be used to stick it to some people after you’re gone! Regardless of your individual reason(s) for needing, or even wanting a will, it boils down to you being the one who gets to make all of the decisions.
Passing away without a will takes your wishes, if any, out of the equation. Instead, your estate is left to be decided by the laws of intestacy– in other words, statutes. And if you have children, and don’t have a will, it gets even worse. You end up leaving your family with a disaster of a knot to untangle, and if any argument ensues (and they often do) over who gets the children, it can be decided by a stranger.
The good news is that it really isn’t difficult to get a will. Sure, it’s one of the most important documents in your life, or I suppose afterlife, if we’re being sticklers, but it doesn’t have to be a huge burden to get one. And believe it or not, Pennsylvania arguably has the most laxed requirements for creating a valid will throughout the country.
There are some interesting cases throughout the jurisprudence to decide whether or not a writing was in fact, a valid will. One interesting case that comes to mind from my law school days involved a farmer who got into an accident and was pinned between his tractor. When he realized he might not make it, (and he didn’t), he took out his pocketknife and carved his testamentary wishes into the fender of his tractor. In that matter, the courts determined that his intent was indisputable, and they recognized the carved words as his dying wishes.
But if you’re reading this article, then you’re most likely not stuck behind a tractor. Don’t leave your family with the burden of litigating what your wishes were after you’re gone. Simply contact Hart Law, and we’ll send you our Estate Planning Questionnaire, and we’ll be in touch. Because yes… it will matter.