One of the most important legal documents that we’ll put together in our lives is our last will and testament, but many of us put it off and put it off. But if you’re under 40 and don’t have a will, now is the time to do it! Don’t put it off! Shockingly, over half of Americans who are between the ages of 55 to 64 don’t have a will and generally speaking, almost 65% of Americans don’t have a will. Having a will protects you and your assets from disputes that can get nasty after your death and ensures that the people, institutes, or organizations that you cared for during your life receive a monetary sum or assets. Being in touch with lawyers about your will is a good first step towards getting all your affairs in order.
What Does a Will Cover?
A will is a legal document usually drawn up by lawyers that has all your wishes on how your property and assets will be given out after your death and what will happen to any minors still under your care at the time of your death. Verbal wishes are one thing, but a written document will ensure that these wishes are legally binding and carried out by your heirs. The will also needs to be signed by you and witnesses and check some boxes, otherwise it could be considered invalid and be disputed. This type of will is the most common and known as self-proving/testamentary will.
Another type of will that’s important to have drawn up is what’s known as a living will, which doesn’t handle your assets at all, but leaves instructions for what to do should you find yourself on life support, but can’t make the decision yourself to stay on it or be taken off.
Why Is It Important to Have a Will?
In a nutshell, a will gives you control — even from the grave — about what is done with your finances, assets, and properties. A will can also help denote bequests — that is, monetary gifts to others or organizations — and instruct on how your trust is to be distributed. Most lawyers will advise you to have a trust if your assets are six figures or higher, since this can lower estate taxes and avoid probate.
A will can also protect the living. If you should die suddenly and still have children to raise, for example, your will can leave them assets for when they come of age that are protected legally. It can also help avoid nasty family rifts — some families can be torn apart by members battling for possession of certain assets or properties.
And lastly, a will will protect you from elder financial abuse. The MetLife Mature Market Institute found in 2008 that almost three billion dollars every year are lost because of elder financial abuse, which includes exploitation of powers of attorney.
What are the Steps to Getting My Will Done?
So you’ve finally decided it’s time to start writing a will. Where do you start? You’ll likely want to seek out lawyers to help you write the will, but first you need to know all your assets and debts. You include in this number any family heirlooms or personal items that you want to assign to a specific person or place.
If your estate is quite large, you’re definitely advised to seek out lawyers who have experience drawing up wills and knows your state laws so they can prepare it accordingly. At any rate, you’ll need to decide who is going to execute your will, name your heirs, select a guardian if you still have minors under your care, and divide your property as you see fit. Lastly, you and witnesses will need to sign the will and find a safe place for your will.
Know that your will can be amended and you should consider updating it every few years if you’re drawing it up at a young age.
Don’t leave your last will to the last minute. It’s not a terribly long or complicated process and you can rest easy knowing you’re protected after it’s done.