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Thy Will Be Done Won't Be Unless You Have One

Having a will is imprtant, but nearly half of American adults don't have one . / Credit: Last will image via Shutterstock

Intestate is not another smartphone game app like "Angry Birds" — it describes dying without having a valid will. And that's no way to go, experts say, because it lets state law determine how your worldly goods are divvied up, including your company if you own a small business. Yet nearly half of all Americans don't have a will, a new survey shows.

The top three reasons for not having a will are procrastination, a belief that one isn't needed and cost, according to a survey of 600 consumers and small-business owners conducted by Rocket Lawyer, an online legal services company.

"When someone dies without a will, state law dictates how assets are distributed and the court decides who gets custody of minor children," said Charley Moore, Rocket Lawyer's founder and executive chairman. "No one should leave big decisions like that to the government and chance.

[5 Things to Consider Before Handing Over Your Company]

Nonetheless, 50 percent of all respondents with children do not have a will, according to the survey. And only 41 percent of Baby Boomers (ages 55-64) have one. The views that people have about estate planning also appear to be slipping behind the times; 63 percent of survey respondents don't know what happens to their digital assets (Facebook account, online photos, passwords) when they die.

The top three reasons for creating a will are ensuring assets pass on to the right people (69 percent), making sure the family is taken care of (54 percent) and the prevention of family disputes 44 percent).

This kind of succession planning is critical for small-business owners to ensure the preservation of assets and an orderly transition of management.

"The first step for every small-business owner to protect their business is to make a will," Moore told BusinessNewsDaily.  "When a small-business owner dies without a will, state law dictates how assets are distributed and continuity of the business rests in the hands of the state. The next step is to consult with an adviser who will likely introduce a trust into the estate plan. A trust, overseen by a professional trustee, can be more complete in terms of delineating how the business will be managed according to your wishes."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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