You need a will in order to put your wishes into effect at your death. Without a will, your property and your surviving family's affairs will be governed by the choices reflected in the statute law of the state of South Carolina. Those choices may not be your choices.
First, your will may dispose of your property in accordance with your wishes, you may choose people and the shares that each will take. Without a will, your property will go to your heirs in shares pre-determined for you by the state's law of intestacy. Dying without a will is called dying "intestate." Roughly summarized: the intestacy law favors your relatives, the closer the relation the greater the share. Your husband or wife takes one-half of your property if you leave a spouse and children. If you leave a spouse and no children, your spouse takes all. If you leave no spouse, but children, then your children take your property.
Generally, if a child of yours does not survive you their children take the share your child would have taken if they had survived you. If neither spouse nor children or grandchildren survive you, then your parents take. If no parents survive then your brothers and your sisters take your property under the state's law of intestacy.
- With a will, you may determine which of your heirs will share in your property, and in what order of priority, and also just exactly what their respective shares will be. You may leave them fractional shares of your choice, or you may leave specific items of property to specific people.
- With a will, you may leave shares of your property to more distant relatives, to friends, to charities, to your church, to whomever you wish to benefit, and in the shares that you desire.
- With a will, you may make gifts to people and require that the beneficiary survive you, or perhaps surviving to a more mature age, or surviving some other person's death.
- With a will, you may make gifts into a trust, appointing a trustee to administer your property for the benefit of your survivors. A trust may be very flexible and can keep someone from doing something foolish with their inheritance.
- With a will, you may even provide for the final disposition of property held by you and your spouse in joint names with right of survivorship. True, on the death of the first spouse the property passes to the surviving spouse without need of a will. But, that leaves the death of the second spouse to be planned for. And your will is the way to handle that problem.
Your will may designate a person of your choice to act as personal representative of your estate. The will may go further and may specify your personal representative's duties and powers with respect to your estate. Your will may tailor make your estate administration to fit your wishes and the needs of your survivors.
If you have minor children or a family member who cannot look after their own affairs, your will may nominate someone to act as guardian to care for the child or infirm family member. It may also be wise to name someone to act as conservator of the property of such persons.
Finally, your will may be drafted with an eye to the United States and South Carolina tax laws. It may include provisions set up to minimize and, perhaps, entirely to avoid the payment of estate taxes at your death and afterward.
These are some reasons why you need a will. There may be others. But, they will all have this in common: you need a will in order to dispose of your property and provide for your family in accordance with your own wishes.
This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.