Of the many possible resolutions we may think of beginning this new year, it is not likely they would include “writing up my wishes for my estate when I have passed on.” It is more pleasant to consider common options such as losing weight or cleaning out the garage.
However, careful estate planning for our family is a much greater investment of our time. Depending upon the size of a family’s assets, estate documents may be relatively quick and easy or may involve trusts and/or a will prepared by an attorney.
There are several important reasons to have a will, but here are five points for your consideration:
1. Having a Will Can Be Less Costly Than Not Having a Will
When someone dies intestate, which means passing without having a legal will, their estate goes into probate. Probate is a judicial proceeding which decides who are rightful heirs of your assets and how the assets will be distributed among them. Not only can probate cost much more than the cost of a will, but it can also divide your assets in proportions different than what you want.
Secondly, estate taxes may significantly reduce the money given to family members. While it may not avoid a certain amount of estate taxes, you can minimize the amount by placing funds in trusts or shared accounts.
The cost for a simple will for the “do-it-yourselfers” may be quite inexpensive. Forms are easily obtained on the internet. However, give serious consideration in hiring an attorney specializing in the preparation of estate documents. Although the cost is more than the online or DYI forms, attorneys offer a wealth of advice and an assurance your will is tailored to your situation. Another advantage of using an attorney is their knowledge of how to properly record your will in the jurisdiction you reside.
Even if you do not consider yourself having significant assets, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing what you have will go to the appropriate person(s).
2. Having a Will Can Prevent Family Strife
Of all the things that can divide family members, the death of a loved one and the assets they leave behind ranks at or near the top. When you die without a will or other estate plan, state laws known as “intestate succession laws” decide which family members will inherit your estate and in what proportion. Many people would rather designate their assets to family members, friends, or charitable organizations of their choosing. Yet, because intestate succession does not allow for that, beneficiaries and other survivors often enter into costly, acrimonious, and lengthy legal battles over who gets what.
In your own experience, you probably know of an incident where family members argued over an item or money left by a parent. The disappointment or resentment may have caused an estranged relationship between the siblings. Including a “no-contest” clause in your will can keep power struggles to a minimum and decisions cleaner for those left behind.
The passing of a parent can cause an overwhelming amount of stress for remaining family members. Forcing siblings to deal with a probate process, or attempting to divide property equitably, adds an additional level of stress. Manage your assets so they don’t have to.
3. Having a Will to Take Care of Your Children or Pets
Without a will, minor children may automatically be entrusted to their next of kin. This becomes quite relevant in today’s society, with blended families becoming more of the norm than in the past. If you find yourself in this situation, ensure your children are going to be cared for by those you want them to be raised by. That may not always be a blood relative.
With a beloved dog or cat, instructions in a will can ensure they are going to someone you trust rather than a shelter.
4. End-of-Life Arrangements
Although we cannot control how we enter the world, we may leave specific directions regarding how we exit. A will allows you to express your wish regarding a memorial service, especially if there are religious requirements or certain family traditions you want to uphold. A preference toward burial or cremation may be made as well.
5. Peace of Mind
A person in their 20’s or 30’s, as people of middle age or older, should realize it is important to complete a will or trust. Aside from the obvious unpredictability of life, a person may get married, have children, deal with a divorce, or experience a life-changing medical condition. Yes, there is a commitment of time, the consideration of asset assignments, and the cost for the preparation of a will. However, after the process is completed, only occasional updates to the will may be needed. There really is a comfort in having a will in place.
Depending upon the complexity of your estate (assets), you may or may not need a lawyer to draft your will. There are many good self-help products that can help you prepare a will yourself. Some people utilize the self-help forms as a tool to document account and property information, then present the forms to an estate attorney. It makes their work easier and, perhaps, less costly. However, many estate attorneys have their own forms to provide to their clients.
Approximately two-thirds of Americans pass away without having prepared a will. Investing a few hours of your time to do so could be one of the most important things you do all year – and beyond.