The Types of People Who Need a Will
You might assume a will is something only older people need to be concerned about. In actuality, every adult should have a will and estate plan, whether they are 18 or 99 years old.
Determining if You Need a Will
You need a will if any one of these is true:
- You have a bank account, cash, or investments in any amount
- You own a home or vehicle
- You own any items of value or importance to you, such as electronics, collectibles, jewelry, or designer pieces of clothing
- You are married, remarried, have children, or are expecting a child
- You have a pet
- You want to donate to a charity after you die
- You want to leave items to non-family members
- You are older than 60 or have a serious medical condition
- You would like to control who receives your property after you are gone
- You want to make things easier for your family after you die
- You want to control who will manage and distribute your assets after your death
- You have or anticipate having difficult relationships with family members
If you haven't noticed yet, nearly every adult fits into one of these categories, meaning it is important for all adults to take action and make a will.
Why a Will Is Important
A will allows you to determine how to distribute every asset you own after your death. You can leave things to specific people, as well as to charities if you want. You can designate individual items ("My brother Miguel gets my class ring"), categories of items ("I leave my furniture to my daughter Candy"), or leave everything to one person (“I leave my entire estate to my husband Franco"). You can also determine who will get your pet, and you can leave money to pay for its care.
Your will designates an executor, the person responsible for making sure your will is probated (processed through court) and carrying out its terms. This allows you to choose someone you trust to carry out your wishes. You also can name an alternate executor if your first choice is not available.
If you have minor children, a will is crucial because you can designate a guardian if both parents pass away.
What Happens if You Die Without a Will
If you die and do not have a valid will, the state you live in will distribute all of your assets and belongings according to its intestacy law. That means that your closest relatives (spouse and children or parents if you are unmarried) will get everything without respect to your wishes. If you have minor children and do not have a will, the court will decide who should have guardianship without your input.
Even if you think you would distribute your assets in the same way the state intestacy law would, a will is necessary because it allows you to plan for every possible situation. For example, if you know the state law would pass your assets to your spouse, you might think that's exactly what you want. What you can't foresee is that both you and your spouse could die in a car accident together and then, according to state law, all your assets would go to your parents, who you did not want to receive anything.
A will allows you to plan for every contingency and make backup plans, giving you control over what happens to everything you own.
Why an Estate Plan Is Important
A will is just one piece of an estate plan. Estate planning should also include a health care directive, also known as a living will. This document states your wishes about health care you do and do not want if you are unable to make your own decisions (such as if you are in a coma and do not want life support ). You can also name a health care proxy or health care power of attorney, a person to make decisions for you when you are unable to.
An estate plan also includes a financial power of attorney. This document names a person to handle your financial matters if you are incapacitated.
An estate plan can also include a trust, such as a living trust, which will own your assets during your life and distribute them to your beneficiaries after your death.
How to Make a Will and Estate Plan
To have a will made, schedule an appointment with an attorney or use FindLaw Legal Forms & Services to create one quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively. However, you probably shouldn't write your own will by hand (or via typing) without any professional assistance or review, because if the will does not meet your state's requirements, it will not be valid.
A will is a necessary document every single adult should create to responsibly manage and control their affairs.
- Find an Estate Planning Attorney Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- When Should You Start Estate Planning? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- 5 Important Estate Planning Questions No One Likes to Answer (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- 10 Common Mistakes When Drafting a Will (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.