A will is one of the most important legal documents you can have. While less than 1/3 of Americans have one, it is more critical than most people realize–and no, it is not just for the wealthy. A will is a common legal document, and when working with a professional, can give you peace of mind to make sure your wishes are heard. Perhaps it’s the very topic itself that deters people from creating a will. After all, it’s difficult to come to grips with the fact that you won’t be here forever. Other times it is a lack of education on the subject or the assumption that it will cost a lot of money to create one. Whatever is the root cause of moms and dads procrastinating this process, creating a will should go to the top of your responsibility list.
Why Parents Need a Will
The most compelling reason for creating a will is guardianship. Yes, courts will usually award custody to a surviving parent, but parents, particularly single, should ensure that this happens without question. While the court will make a final decision, it is imperative that parents make their preferences known.
Additionally, if you die without a will, state laws dictate how your property will be distributed. Most people assume their spouse will inherit the entire estate, even if no will exists. Instead, many states distribute part of an estate to the surviving spouse and divide the rest among the children. Minors cannot inherit money until they are 18 (or 21 in some states) and a spouse may need those assets to support the children.
A will can also designate your wishes regarding how children with special needs will be protected financially and otherwise, how to handle cremation/burial, and how to streamline the probate process-in other words, save your survivors unnecessary stress and anxiety during an already difficult time.
These designations are important for grandparents as well. As a grandparent you may want to give your grandchildren property or funds. Your will is your opportunity to state what your wishes are and what is meant for them, despite what other family members may want or think is fair.
Where to Start
Start by thinking about your assets and liabilities. Assets include property, bank and retirement accounts, stocks, bonds and life insurance. Liabilities are debts-including mortgages, loans, hospital bills and credit cards. You need to consider the guardian(s) you want appointed for your child(ren) and also need to appoint an executor-someone you trust to administer your requests as written in your will. You’ll need to name beneficiaries and should consider setting your children up with a trust so that an adult can manage their inheritance.
Even if everything is jointly owned, a will is still needed. It ensures a seamless transfer for assets and allows the process to move more smoothly. The last thing a grieving widow needs is to get tied up with unnecessary legal headaches.
Divorced? Consider meeting with your ex to discuss guardianship and inheritance. An attorney will help you work out the details.
Is an attorney always necessary?
For some people, producing a will is something that can be done with the help of a legal software program. There are programs out there that can help you create a living will or trust as well as power of attorney. These programs can be a good place to start if cost is your number one concern. If you do decide to tackle it on your own, you should be aware of unintended consequences as evidenced in this article. An attorney will streamline the process for you and make sure that all areas are covered. They know what questions to ask and what information to gather. When you form a relationship with your legal team, they can offer advice due to their expertise.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2 out of 3 adults still do not have a will. The downsides of dying “intestate” – without a will – is that the laws generally distribute property at death to the surviving spouse or descendants, a plan that is not necessarily suitable for unmarried couples and other nontraditional families. Let’s move this statistic forward—reach out today for a consultation and we’ll walk you through the will creation process: 866-566-9494 or Assistant@jlonglaw.com.