Better draw up a will, or the state will do it for you

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 26, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

You can leave everything to Fluffy or Fido if you want; just be sure to put it in writing. And to further ensure that your beloved pet, devoted niece or best friend get the things you want them to have, always get a lawyer to formalize your will and other estate matters.

As you might expect, any attorney would tell you that, but it makes sense to have someone skilled in potentially complicated situations of passing along your worldly belongings.


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Who should get a will? For starters, Suffolk Attorney Johnnie E. Mizelle advised that persons who are at the &uot;age of maturity, which is 18, or otherwise emancipated.&uot; The latter means that &uot;the court has ruled you can live independent as an adult if you are not yet 18.&uot;

Brent L. Rowlands, another local lawyer, put it this way:

&uot;The state has a will for you whether you’ve got one or not.&uot;

That’s called the Statute of Descents and Distributions, said Frank M. Rawls, another local lawyer.

In Virginia, for example, if you are a single adult who dies without a will, then your estate will go to your parents because they are, as Mizelle put it, &uot;the first class of heirs.&uot; If they are deceased, then any siblings would inherit. Should they be deceased, but have spouses and children, then they could get the goods. This goes down the line to cousins, aunts or uncles, for example.

If you are married with kids, then the offspring get two-thirds and spouse gets the remaining one-third, which is the state’s will, said Rawls.

But in the event that you have nobody, then all the property goes to the state.

What about the cost?

While many lawyers might offer a free initial consultation, Mizelle said that an average cost for drawing up a will can be $125 on up.

But all three attorneys quoted above would certainly agree that the price is nominal compared to how much things could cost – never mind the emotional turmoil – your survivors if you do not have a will.

Rawls also stressed the need for arranging a durable power of attorney.

His example: Suppose you are single and can afford to take a few months from work. During your sabbatical, the appointed person acts on your behalf when it comes to paying bills. Likewise, if you should be injured or taken severely ill, that person would be empowered to act as well. He or she can make health care decisions to help you recover or die.

Mizelle mentioned the living will, which would direct what should be done in the event of a debilitating injury or terminal illness. The person with powers of attorney would be allowed to end life support, thus enabling you to die with dignity.

What about pulling down a will form from the Internet?

&uot;I would advise against it,&uot; said Mizelle. &uot;One form doesn’t fit all. I think a will should be done in consultation with an attorney.&uot; There could be issues of the &uot;competency of the testator (the one who made the will) and interpretation. Did the testator mean to leave everything to just one person or some others? Sometimes words are subject to different interpretation. The court could make the determination.&uot;

Mizelle pointed out that &uot;the only will that speaks is the last one. Even if I made 10, the one made tonight is the valid last will. I’ve had clients change theirs one or twice a month in retaliation against would-be inheritors.&uot;