Everyone over the age of 18 (or 21 depending on where you live) should have a will.  Why?  A will is the most important estate planning document there is, and, yes, everyone has an estate!

What is a Will?

A will tells others where you want your property to go after you pass away.  You can use a lawyer but you can also do it yourself using any one of the many software packages available to help you through the process.  It is best to sign and date your will.  You will also want to have two witnesses sign the will and then keep the will in a safe place, where others can find it in the event of your death.

In simplest terms, a will gives instructions regarding how you want your estate (or assets) to be distributed after you pass away.  You do not have to own a home or a boat to have an estate.  Simply having some money in the bank means you have assets.  You can leave specific assets to specific individuals, or you can simply state that you want your assets divided evenly amongst a certain group of people of your choosing.  With a will you can also prevent certain people from getting any of your assets after you pass away.

Wills are especially important if you have young children, or handicapped children unable to look after themselves.  If you have dependents, a will can state whom you want to take care of them, in other words, appoint a guardian.

In a will you can also name an executor.  An executor is the person in charge of making sure that your wishes are carried out.  This way you can appoint someone you trust to look after the distribution of your assets.

Wills can be changed at any time.  In fact, it is a good idea to go over your will periodically, especially if your family situation changes, such as marriages, divorces, birth of children, etc.  In addition, as your financial situation fluctuates, you might want to make changes regarding how you want your assets to be divided up among your heirs.

Why You Should Have a Will

The first and most important reason to have a will is that you don’t want the state to decide how your assets should be divided up.  If you die without having a will the state gets to decide who will get what, regardless of what you would want or what your heirs actually need.

Intestacy laws take effect when an individual dies without a will.  These laws vary from state to state, but they typically follow some general guidelines.  If you are married and have children when you die, the state typically divides your assets among them.  However, if you are not married when you die and have no children, then the state typically chooses which of your blood relatives will end up inheriting your estate.  It does not make a difference whether you were close to those individuals, or even if you knew them, they simply need to be blood relatives.  The state will definitely search for any possible blood relatives, but if the state cannot find any blood relatives, then your assets all become property of the state.

Dying without a will means that the probate court takes over, and the judge gets to decide who will receive what.  This can be a lengthy and expensive process.  The judge won’t take into account anything you told people verbally.

Wrapping It Up

We all tend to think that we have a lot of time before we need a will.  However, the unfortunate reality is that we don’t have control over our future and don’t know what might happen to us next year, next month, tomorrow, or even later today.  Therefore, the best thing you can do for those you love is to fill out a will.  It can be a quick, simple, and inexpensive process that will help provide for those you love after you pass away.