Are you one of the 66% of adults who doesn’t have a will?
No one likes to think about death, especially their own.
It is also a bit confusing. When thinking about preparing a will, many people wonder, “What kind of will do I need?” or “What do I put in a will?”
Many also think they have to wait until they have enough money or own a house, but this just isn’t true. There are many reasons you may need a will long before then (or any other reason you have been putting it off).
Don’t let the confusion and questions stop you from creating your will. It will give you peace of mind once it is done.
It also makes it easier on those you leave behind.
What Is a Will?
A will is a document that a person (testator) creates that designates what will happen to their real and personal property after their death. This real and personal property is referred to as the testator’s estate. The person who handles your estate after you die is called the executor.
In their simplest form, wills are generally written so the testator can name who will become the owner of their real and personal property after their death. These new owners are called beneficiaries. The testator can name one person as a beneficiary or name many, designating specific people who will take ownership of specific property.
After creating the will, which can be written either in the testator’s own handwriting or by using a state-approved, pre-printed form with lines to be filled in by the testator, the testator must sign and date the will in front of two disinterested witnesses. A disinterested witness is someone who will not benefit under the will.
Who Needs a Will?
Anyone with any type of real or personal property regardless of value, who wants to leave that property to someone, in particular, should prepare a will.
Anyone with a child under the age of 18 should also prepare a will to designate a guardian to care for their child in the event of the testator’s death. This is true even if the child’s other parent is still alive.
As a parent, we care about everything to do with our child, what they eat, their health, how they are doing in school, who their friends are, what video games they play, etc. Given this, make sure you make a will to make arrangements for someone to continue to provide their care in the unfortunate event that it’s ever needed.
What You Should Put in Your Will
Many people wonder, “What do I put in my will?” The answer to that can be quite simple.
First, you will want to name an executor. If you do not, a court can appoint one, but that will cause a delay in the processing of your estate. Plus, if you choose to name your executor yourself, you can pick someone you trust and who is familiar with your preferences. Your executor will also handle the paying of any bills outstanding at your death and file your last income tax, among other things.
Next, you will want to name your beneficiaries. You are not limited in the number of beneficiaries you can have. Everything you own can be given to one person. Or you can choose to break things down by specific categories. Such as all your jewelry to your niece.
Keep in mind that you should be specific with the names, however. Words like “niece” without a specific name attached can get confusing if another niece is born later (after preparing your will and before your death).
Can a Will be Amended or Revoked?
Many people don’t want their decisions about the distribution of their estate to remain permanent. They know things can change over their lifetime. So they put off preparing a will.
However, a person can change their will at any time.
State laws vary but to amend a will, generally, a person simply needs to write a new will that is dated after their original will. The will executed most recently to the date of death is the one that will be enforced.
A will can also be revoked in its entirety.
You aren’t stuck with it. You can always make changes.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will?
If you die without having made a will, your real and personal property will be distributed according to the laws of your state. This is known as intestate succession.
These laws vary widely. If you are not familiar with your state’s particular rules, you may want to look them up. But also keep in mind that if you later move and become a resident of another state, your new state’s rules may be different.
By preparing your own will, it won’t matter where you move. So long as your will is valid, your estate will be distributed according to your wishes.
How Often Should You Review Your Will?
After preparing your will, you should review it every year or so just to be sure your feelings haven’t changed about any of your decisions.
Reviewing your will after certain life events is also necessary. Beneficiaries can pass away before you. New people can come into your life through births of children, grandchildren, and marriage.
Should You Consult a Probate Attorney?
While some people’s wills are very straight-forward and easy to create, there are many reasons why you should consider consulting with a probate attorney prior to preparing a will.
Depending on the complexity of your estate, for instance, a will may not be the best way to handle your estate after your death. You may need a trust, a “pour-over” will, or other estate planning device. They will be able to confirm the kind of you need.
Another problem that comes up regularly when planning a will is how to leave property to a child but you do not want them to receive the property until they turn a certain age, like 25 years old. An attorney can help you with this.
State laws vary from state-to-state. And those laws are always changing. Consulting with an attorney will confirm you have followed your state’s rules for creating a valid will.
Make Things Easier on your Family, Prepare Your Will
Preparing a will is one of the most thoughtful things you can do for your family. Upon your death, they will be mourning your loss, looking for the perfect flowers for your service, and wanting to remember all the wonderful memories they shared with you.
It will ease their mind knowing that you put your preferences in writing and made the handling of your affairs easier for everyone involved.
It will also ease your mind.
Don’t wait until events happen to put preparing a will forefront in your mind. Be prepared so you can have one less thing to think about when that time comes.
You will be glad you did.