When’s the last time you thought about preparing your will? Did you actually have it done, or did you think about it and then decide to put it off?
It happens, and you’re not alone – 64% of Americans don’t have a will because they “haven’t gotten around to it yet.” We all get busy and forget to take care of things like our last will and testament. But having a will is one of the best decisions you can make because it provides a roadmap for your loved ones during a sad and stressful time. After working in a law office for more than 8 years, I’ve written numerous wills and have worked on many probate cases. I’ve seen the probate process go smoothly when a will was involved and I’ve seen families fight over every little detail when there wasn’t. Make the decision to prepare your will today. If you don't have an attorney, then you may want to consider how a legal services plan could help.
Here are 5 important outcomes you can accomplish with your will:
1) Establish guardianship for your children
If you have underage children, it’s very important to have a plan for them in the event that something happens to you. Without a will, the court would be forced to follow the law to establish a guardian for your children, and make decisions to determine what’s in their best interest.
TIP! Before speaking to your attorney to prepare your will, you should have a conversation with your choice in guardian. Get their agreement to the arrangement so you know they’re on board should the need arise.
2) Designate your executor to manage your estate and affairs
Your executor is responsible for managing your estate after you’ve passed. They file the will for probate, notify creditors, pay debts, represent your estate in court, and distribute assets, among other things. It’s an important job that requires a large amount of responsibility, so this person should be chosen wisely.
TIP! The upfront costs can be rather expensive for an executor. Retaining a lawyer and filing the necessary documents to begin the probate process are paid out of the executor's pocket in the beginning and reimbursed later, so that’s something to keep in mind when choosing an executor. As with choosing a guardian, it’s best to get agreement from your desired executor before you sign them up for this task.
3) Define how your estate will be divided
During an already stressful time, the last thing you want is fighting between family members about who gets what. A clear will defines your wishes and can help prevent arguments about how the estate is divided. It allows you to make special gifts to loved ones (a vacation fund so they can take a trip and remember you) or donations to a charity you support. If you choose, you can also disinherit someone. You have the ability to split up your belongings however you see fit.
TIP! Dividing an estate, particularly among multiple children, can involve many factors for consideration. Does one child have special needs or circumstances that carry burdensome expenses? Are there significant gaps of income at play? One way to help curb any potential arguments is to discuss your plans ahead of time with your family along with your reasoning, or write a letter along with your will to detail your thoughts in making decisions. Take the time to think through these situations before you meet with your lawyer.
4) Simplify the probate process in the courts
Without a will, your family may face expensive legal fees and an extensive process in probate court. Additional hearings might also be needed to establish an administrator for your estate and determine your heirs. It varies from state to state, but the law will ultimately determine the outcome of your assets. A will simplifies the probate process for your family.
5) Provide peace of mind to you and your family
All of this leads to the peace of mind that a will provides. It’s good to know that your children will be taken care of by loving family members or friends in the event that something happens to you. It’s also good to know that you have a plan in place for your assets. The simple act of completing a will allows you to care for your family after you’re gone. Your desires have been made known. If you ever change your mind about anything in your will or if circumstances change, it’s simple to modify.
TIP! It’s a good idea to review your will every couple of years and after major life events (additional children, grandchildren, deaths, significant financial changes, etc.) to ensure it’s still accurate and aligns with your wishes. For example, is your executor still able to complete the task, has a charity ceased to exist, or a beneficiary passed away?
Making a will doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. There are services that can help and give you incredible peace of mind knowing your family is well cared for after you’ve moved to “the great beyond.”
Now it’s your turn! Have you updated your will lately? What critical components did you include? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.