If you have a family and/or assets and you want to control where they go in the event you aren’t around, you need a will. This powerful document is an act of protection for your loved ones. It ensures that your young children and other dependents are left with a guardian of your choosing and that your assets are distributed the way you intend. Executing a will is the first step in estate planning. The sooner you get it done, the better.
Fifty-five percent of Americans don’t have a will, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. In addition, those who do have a will aren’t updating them as needed. Changes in family situations such as marriage, divorce, births and deaths can make an outdated will a source of tremendous family conflict.
Industry experts suggest reviewing your will with a qualified estate planning professional once every five years, and during important life events, to ensure it reflects your current wishes and that you are providing for the needs of your intended beneficiaries.
The following life events are common catalysts in creating or revisiting your will:
- Getting married or divorced
- Having children or grandchildren
- Losing a family member
- Getting hurt or injured
- Changing your mind about guardianship or where you want your assets allocated
- Receiving an inheritance
- Experiencing a financial setback
- Buying or selling a business
- Moving to another state
- Changes in the law that may impact your current will
If you’ve procrastinated, you are not alone. An article in Forbes gave the following reasons why people put off doing their will:
- “I’m too young to write a will.”
- “I don’t want to think about dying.”
- The belief that assets will automatically pass to the proper individuals.
- Drafting a will is expensive.
- The belief that only wealthy people need wills.
- Not ready to make important life decisions.
- Avoid dealing with family issues.
- Reluctant to discuss personal details with an attorney.
- Unaware of the consequences of not having a will.
When you write your will, you get to make your intentions clear about:
- Any inheritance you leave for your loved ones
- Guardianship for your minor children or other dependents
- Any charitable donations that you would like made
- How you want your property, money, assets, and other valuables distributed after you die
If you do not have a will when you die, your estate will be handled in probate court, and your property could be distributed differently from what you would like.
Your state’s laws of descent and distribution will determine who receives your property by default. These laws vary from state to state, but typically the distribution would be to your spouse and children, or if none, to other family members, according to the American Bar Association. Also, wills must be signed in the presence of witnesses and certain formalities must be followed or the will may be invalid.
It may help to get legal advice when writing a will, particularly when it comes to understanding all of the rules of will execution, estate disposition, guardianship, trusts, beneficiaries, and the inheritance process in your state.