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Lots of people “forget” to have a will prepared.

When that happens, West Virginia law and beneficiary designations on financial accounts or property will control what happens next.

Intestate succession, meaning the deceased left no effective will, is not a super simple process. Whether there were multiple marriages with children is just one factor in determining how things will be handled and distributed.

If only living children survive the deceased person, the children will receive equal shares.

That may or may not be a great idea, especially when all of the children may not have been a positive part of the parent’s life. If some helped a lot and others caused problems galore, you may decide to give more to some than to others. The traditional way to assure that result is through completing a will.

Especially in situations where one or more of the children will serve as the caregiver, the intent of the parent may be to pass the family home to the primary caregiver.

For that to happen, a will is no longer needed. A new type of West Virginia property transfer called a transfer on death deed can make sure that a specific person or caregiver does receive the home and property at a future time.

Working with an attorney on the transfer of death deed is needed.

Under the terms of the deed, the property ownership will not change until you pass away, and then the transfer to the new owner will be automatic without any probate activity.

In the meantime, the TOD deed can be revoked if circumstances change.

Another option considered by some is a life estate arrangement that gives one or more persons the right to live in the home for the rest of their lives after you pass away.

When the heir’s life estate ends, others will inherit the property.

While this sounds workable on paper, generally the lack of funds to maintain the property often guarantees this will be a difficult arrangement. If the person living in the house has little income or doesn’t want to spend their money for needed work, such as a new roof or plumbing repairs, they do not have to. In essence, they will pay the taxes and insurance on the property, but don’t need to do anything more.

Another direction for helping certain children is through checking, savings, stock and retirement accounts. Having an after-death beneficiary listed on the account can make sure the right person receives the funds. The same is true of beneficiaries on life insurance and annuity plans.

Specifying beneficiaries for accounts is done with a form supplied by the company managing the account. It’s easy to do and can be changed whenever needed. No change in control of the account occurs until you pass away.

Some believe that verbal instructions about who gets what or a letter of instructions is as good as a will. That’s definitely not true. Such instructions have no legal effect at all.

Alternatives to a will can work if you truly understand what is involved and plan well.

For West Virginia residents, age 60 and older, who have legal issues and want to speak with an attorney at no cost, call the West Virginia Senior Legal Aid hotline at 800-229-5068.

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