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What would you do if a total stranger knocked on your front door and told you he would be making all decisions regarding your property when you die? Chances are you’d say no and slam the door in his face.

Unfortunately for those who die without making a will, a total “stranger” (state laws of “descent and distribution”) does take over and determine what happens to their estate. The stranger never knocks but he’s there nonetheless.

State laws are impersonal. They don’t make exceptions. They may place restrictions on the disposition of your estate – unnecessarily draining those assets. The state-made will cannot take into account the different needs of your survivors.

You may think your estate is so small that a will isn’t necessary. Just the opposite is true. The smaller the estate, the more important that it is settled quickly – delays usually mean more expense. Remember that your estate may include cash, savings bonds, securities, cars, family heirlooms, jewelry and furniture – as well as real estate.

Many people delay making a will because of unfamiliarity with the process. Many never get around to it. Many loved ones and survivors know all too well how the “stranger” has affected their lives. Just knowing you have your own plan in place should give you greater peace of mind.

A qualified attorney should be consulted when you decide to make your will. There is no substitute for his or her expertise during the will-making process. However, you play the most important role. You should outline the specific people you wish to remember, things you own and a plan for the specific property (or estate percentage) you want to go to each person/organization. Consult with an attorney to find out what information will be needed to draft a proper will.

You can take steps to make sure the stranger doesn’t knock on your door. Please call the Lee Health Foundation at (239) 985-3550 if you’d like more information about charitable giving through wills.