It should come as no surprise that when you die, your family is responsible for settling your estate. If you’re like most people, the thought of writing a will may seem morbid or like you are accepting that death is imminent. Although we know that life is not infinite, it’s important to understand why it is important to have a will.
We all know that a will is important, but do you do know all the benefits of writing a will? A will not only ensures your assets, family, spouse and children are protected, it also allows you to support organizations, charities and others that aren’t related to you. The executor(s) of your estate ensure that your final wishes are followed, debts are settled and beneficiaries receive what they are entitled too.
Without a will and executor listed, the state will be responsible for deciding on how your assets are distributed. Not all of your assets may be automatically transferred to your family and the courts can take a long time to assess and distribute assets. This can create an unnecessary burden on your estate and create additional stress for your family.
If you are unsure about writing a will or the importance of making a will, we’ve outlined 5 reasons to have a will as well as a checklist for how to write a will.
5 Reasons to Have a Will
Ensure the Right People Inherit Your Assets
The first benefit of writing a will is that it ensures that the people you want to inherit your assets are indeed the ones who do. Without a will, the people or organizations you want to benefit from inheriting your assets may not be able to receive them if the probate court deems who the rightful heirs are. This is especially important when assets carry a sentimental or monetary value. If some of your assets are likely to cause conflict among surviving family members, a will ensures that the people you want to leave an asset to are the rightful heirs.
Provide Your Children with Security
If your children are still minors when you die, a will protects them for the future. Within your will, you can list the guardians you want to assume responsibility for your children. Without a will, the state will be left to determine whose custody your children are placed in. Additionally, you can create a trust so that when your children turn of age, they inherit your savings. This can provide your children with financial security for the future as they enter adulthood.
Avoid Legal Challenges
As we’ve said, without a will, a probate court will be left to decide who receives your assets. This can cause many legal challenges for your family that a will eliminates from happening. An example of this is, if a son dies and the estate is awarded a million dollars in a wrongful death lawsuit. Although the son’s father has been estranged for many years, he could be awarded the estate leaving other relatives with nothing. A will states who you want to receive your assets and what they are entitled to receive.
Estate taxes and other legal fees can quickly add up and reduce the value of the inheritance you leave behind for your family. By writing a will and planning ahead, you can reduce these expenses. The total value of the assets you give away to family members or charities will help to reduce your estate taxes and increase the value of your beneficiaries’ inheritance.
Decide Who Will Handle the Affairs of Your Estate
An important part of any will is making sure that you choose an executor you can trust to handle your affairs. The executor(s) you choose will be responsible for settling debts, cancelling credit cards, notifying the bank and other establishments of your death, ensuring the distribution of assets and many other tasks. The person you choose to handle the affairs of your estate needs to be someone who is honest, trustworthy and organized. Without an executor, the state will be responsible for overseeing this process which can delay the time it takes for your assets to be distributed.
These are just a few of the many reasons to have a will. Keep in mind that to stay up to date with the most recent laws surrounding estates it’s recommended you speak with an attorney. If you are still left wondering why is it important to have a will, they will be able to go into greater detail about the many benefits of writing a will.
Writing A Will Checklist
If you’re interested in writing a will, below is a checklist of steps to work through as you draft your will. As always, it is best to consult with your attorney after completing a draft to ensure everything is accounted for and completed properly.
Before you begin to write your will, take some time to list each of your beneficiaries. These are the people you want to inherit your real and personal objects and properties. You don’t need to decide who will receive what yet, just who you would like to be involved.
Once you have listed your beneficiaries, it’s time to start listing the assets they will receive. This can include anything from homes or vehicles to smaller items like jewelry and personal mementos.
Keep in mind that in order to bequeath an asset, you must be the sole owner of it. If you are married and your spouse shares ownership of something, it is not possible to include this in your will. Other assets may not be able to be passed down and instead placed in a trust or other method. If you are unsure, it is best to speak with your lawyer about this.
Although you do not bequeath your debts to loved ones, debts provide insight into the overall financial health of your estate. Your list of debts should include the following if applicable:
> Car loans/leases
> Credit cards
> Student loans
> Personal loans
> Outstanding taxes
The executor role is very important. This is the person you list in your will who is responsible for settling the estate. They are responsible for closing accounts, settling debts and ensuring the beneficiaries receive the proper items/properties.
Before you list your executor, it is best to speak with them and make sure they are up to the task. In most cases, people select a family member to be their executor. However, if you feel that this will cause tension within your family, it’s also possible to have your attorney or a third party act as your executor. Again, make sure to consult with the person you want to choose before you list them. If something happens in the future and you need to change your executor, this can be easily amended.
Your will is the ideal place to list who you wish to serve as guardian to your minor children or pets should their other parent be unable to care for them. If your children are underage and you wish to leave properties to them, this is when you can list who will be responsible for these properties until they reach the age of majority.