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This post was updated on March 30, 2022
As we have said many times before, it's never too early to write a will. While it may strike you as morbid or impractical, the sooner you can have an estate plan in place, the better. Writing a will while you're young can give you a better understanding of your assets, provide a framework that you can refine and revise as the years go by, and remove any worries that you weren't in your right mind when you bequeathed your entire fortune to your dog.
While there may be no time too early to write a will, there is certainly a time when it's too late. Can you guess when?
Yep, if you don't complete a will before you die, your estate will go into probate — the legal process for transferring a person's property after their death and sorting out the legal issues related to the collection, management, and distribution of an estate. And going into probate without a will (or intestate) means that you're leaving the distribution of your estate up to your state's laws on intestate succession.
Intestate succession can be more expensive and take longer, and there is no guarantee that the people you want to inherit your estate will. While an administrator will make efforts to track down heirs and close relatives for distribution, more distant relatives, friends, and charities are likely to lose out. And how your estate is distributed will be up to the courts, rather than up to you. Finally, most states take the entire estate if no surviving family members are reachable.
If you already have a will or estate plan in place, your death is also your deadline for revisions or changes. So it's best to continually update your will based on life changes like marriage, children, or divorce, and financial changes like buying land or a house and acquiring assets like investment or retirement portfolios.
You can probably handle these revisions or changes yourself with the help of do-it-yourself products. If you purchase a will from FindLaw Legal Forms and Services, you can also revise it on the platform without the help of an attorney.
But if your estate situation is more complex, you might consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. Whatever choice you make, though, do it soon.
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.
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