Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2008-03-11

Update Your Will

Today's legal pop culture note:

Make a will. After important life events, update it. Brought to you courtesy of Heath Ledger's Will: written before his daughter was born, so it leaves everything to his parents and his siblings and nothing to his child.

Now, of course, there are ways to contest wills in this type of situation; look at the Anna Nicole Smith will, not revised after the birth of her daughter or the death of her son.

Please, don't make any assumptions about what will happen after you die. It's a terrible time period for those who are left behind, and arguing about this, and decoding your local state law to decide who the state thinks should get stuff, is no fun for anyone.

Given the number of handlers and managers and the like celebrities have, I'm always surprised at wills that aren't updated; but Ledger may have had trusts for his child, so, in that instance, took care of her financially outside of the will.

Look, for example, at New Jersey law: If you die leaving a spouse or domestic partner and no children, but are survived by parents, the spouse or domestic partner will inherit the first 25% of the estate, but not less than $50,000.00 nor more than $200,000.00 plus three-fourths of any balance of the estate. Your parents take the balance equally.

So, even if you've been married for 30 years, your spouse does not get it all. And, if your house was bought before you married and is not in both your names, that may be included in the estate, so, well, you can see what I mean. Given the value of New Jersey homes, $200,000 suddenly isn't a lot of money anymore.

Not to mention that girlfriends and boyfriends and fiancees aren't recognized by statute when dividing up an estate. Really, if Brad or Angelina dies, I'm sure the survivor has enough income earning ability that it isn't going to matter that they get nothing. But the real life couples who, like Brad and Angelina, don't marry? To them, it does matter. You may not have a lot...but do you want that little bit to be eaten up with legal costs? (Plus, again for those of you not gazillionaires... Social Security death benefits? You need to be married to get them. I'm not saying to get married if you don't want to; I'm just saying that when it comes to some of this stuff, it is more than just a piece of paper. It may not be a lot of money, but if you're a two income family down to one-income, something is better than nothing.)

Now, um, I'm off to take my own advice and write my will.

Disclaimer: This is a blog post. Not legal advice. Talk to an attorney. Go to your library and read the many great books they have about wills and the like.

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