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Wills Can Help Prevent Family Conflicts

LAS CRUCES -- After a death, dividing up personal possessions is never easy. But making a will now can ensure that family members are financially secure and help reduce stress, said a New Mexico State University consumer education specialist.


"A will allows you to specify your exact wishes for the assets you will leave behind, regardless of the size of your estate," said Susan Wright with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Think about the impact your desires will have on your family and those you love."

Creating a will takes the burden off surviving family and helps prevent conflicts over a prized heirloom like grandmother's wedding ring, she said.

Wills can provide financially for the surviving spouse and dependent children in case of unexpected events, Wright said. Without a will, all property goes to the surviving spouse unless there are children. If so, one-fourth of any separately held property goes to the surviving spouse and the rest is divided equally among the children. Writing a will, however, allows people to make their preferences known.

Wills also can designate guardianship and other provisions to guarantee children's rights. If a person has never married or had children, the estate usually passes to parents and then to siblings in the event that there's no will.

"When starting a will, carefully inventory your estate to determine your resources," Wright said. " Make a detailed listing of all you wish to leave and to whom. The recipients of non-titled items with little monetary value but a lot of sentimental value can be designated with a letter of directions."

A will may be drawn up by an attorney, written using a self-help guide, or a simple form purchased from a local office supply or stationery store that is notarized after completion, she said.

"Once the will is completed, review it on a regular basis to make necessary revisions and additions," Wright said. "Keep it in a safe place, such as with an attorney, trusted friend or family member. Also, If you move to another state, make sure the will complies with the laws of that state."

A trust is another method for disbursing assets and can accomplish the same goals if well planned and managed, she said. Consultation with a competent attorney will help ensure the right decisions are made.