Probably. But maybe not. If you’re young and single or married and have no children, then if you die accidentally, all of your money goes to your spouse anyway, if you have no children, and if you’re not married, then everything goes to your parents. If you’re okay with that, maybe you don’t need a Will. If you’re older and your spouse has died, and you want to have all your children get everything equally, them maybe you don’t need a Will either. Maybe. In this case, one of your children is probably more qualified to manage your estate when you die, and having a Will ensures the most capable child is in charge.
So in some situations, people may not need a Will. Dying is much worse than dying without a Will. But the truth of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of people should have a Last Will and Testament. If you’re married with children and die without a Will, the law in New York, more or less, is that your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate, and the rest is divided equally between your spouse and all your children. And your spouse is in charge of your final affairs, and probably doesn’t even need to go to the courthouse. In most cases, married people have their accounts in joint names with rights of survivorship (you know what that is, right?), or have their spouse as beneficiary on their accounts, so in both these cases the accounts go automatically to the surviving spouse. Everything is okay. You’re still dead, but your estate Will be handled as someone would probably want anyway.
There are definitely a lot of problems which could pop up though, and they do all the time. In the first place, especially these days, married people may have joint accounts, but also have separate accounts. And on those separate accounts, many times people forget to name their spouse as beneficiary, or the bank or financial institution loses the records inside the cloud. So that could be a problem because of the intestacy rules (dying without a Will is called ‘dying intestate’, or just ‘intestate’, or ‘intestacy’, which we saw in the paragraph above. This could be a real problem.
If you’re married and have minor children, then a lot of other issues pop up. Guardianship of the children is not usually an issue, because the children still have a mother or father to take care of them. As we saw earlier, your money will many times go automatically to the surviving spouse. And even if the children do end up getting some money by the rules of intestacy, it’s going into a UGMA account anyway for their benefit, and the spouse is in charge, so is that such a big deal? Probably not. For better or worse though, they get the money at age 18. If it’s $5,000 or $10,000 that’s okay. Hopefully they’ll invest it for something important later on. But what if the amount turns out to be $50,000, or $100,000? Or more? Do you really want your 18 year old getting their hands on $50,000? I know if I inherited $50,000 when I was 18, it would be gone by the time I was 18 1/2. Probably a Corvette. Or a Trans Am. Or a Z28. Also, maybe you do have a good sum of money, and your spouse has their own money and a good job. Maybe you want most of your money to go to your spouse, but also an amount of money to go into a trust for your children and used for college, or to buy a house, or start a business; whatever. But not give it them outright when they’re 18. So you need a Will and Trust for that. Or maybe it’s a second marriage for either spouse, and they have children from a prior marriage. In that case, maybe you don’t want all your money going to the surviving spouse; maybe you want to set money aside for your children from the prior marriage. So you need a Will and Trust for that too.
And there are dozens and dozens of more reasons why just about everyone needs a Will. Maybe you’re in one of the few situations where you don’t need a Will. But probably not.