The primary goal of estate planning is not tax reduction. While tax reduction can be an important aim, the primary goals of estate planning are the expression of each individual’s autonomy, and conflict reduction. It is generally in no one’s interest for there to be conflict in an estate, not at all on a human level, and almost certainly not on a financial level.
With careful estate planning there is no reason that there should be conflict over your estate. Most estate related conflict is avoidable, and the most important tool in estate planning is the will. No matter what your other goals are, they can generally only be accomplished if you also avoid a high-conflict estate administration.
A last will and testament is each person’s last opportunity to express (in material means) their values and their wishes. As each person and each family is different, what each person will make of that opportunity will also be different. Therefore, it is crucial to understand what the situation will be if you do not have a will.
If you die intestate, that is, die without a will, then your estate (your legal and financial self) will be wound down by operation of law — which may or may not match what you want. The law of intestacy is a complicated bit of law, but it is an attempt to treat people fairly — inasmuch as we can make predictions about what family relationships are going to look like — which is of course impossible.
When you express yourself through a will, you are taking ownership of what is to become of you after you die. The consequence of not having a will, or potentially worse, having a dubious will, could be conflict among the people that you care about.
In Part 2, I will discuss the laws of intestacy and more about the potential pitfalls and difficulties of not having a will. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and subscribe to my mailing list so that you do not miss out on any important information!