As an insurance advisor for over 37 years, I counsel people all the time about including proper beneficiary information on their life insurance forms. However, that directive is only one small piece of an individual’s overall “estate plan.”
A will is one of the most important tools a person can have because it helps guide family and financial decisions after death. For some, a will may be the first step in a bigger estate plan. For others, the will is the centerpiece, directing their wishes and estate after they are gone.
What are the primary benefits of having a will?
- To protect your children. Don’t assume your parents or other relatives will step in to take care of your children after you pass away. Without a last will and testament, your state decides who should care for them, which may be a blood relative that you may not approve of. With a will, you designate a guardian that you love and trust to care for your children.
- To decide who receives your assets. Whether it is a family heirloom or a portion of your savings accounts, you should decide who receives your belongings, not generic state rules. State rules may not meet your wishes, and they don’t include provisions for a non-blood relative or friend.
- To make a difficult time less difficult. Losing someone is incredibly hard, and the last thing anyone wants to do is spend time sorting things out with attorneys and being at odds with family members. Having a will provides a directive and keeps your loved ones from incurring additional stress.
- To provide for a favorite charity. Wills do not have to be just for family, friends, and loved ones. For some people, including a charity in their will is a great way to give back.
- To protect your business. If you own a business, a will gives you the chance to ensure it lives on long after your passing. A will can also help your beneficiaries avoid costly litigation over what your intentions were and who has rights to what.
Who should have a will?
A will is not just for the rich. A will is not just for parents with young children. Rather, a will is for all of us who want to provide directives and peace of mind to our loved ones during a stressful time in their lives.
How do I prepare a will?
There are a number of ways to have a will created.
- You can hire an estate planning attorney. This option will cost the most, but an attorney can provide the most assistance in guiding you through the process, particularly if you have a complicated estate.
- There is software and online subscriptions, such as legalzoom or rocketlawyer. These programs are relatively inexpensive. They work by guiding you through a series of questions to help you create your state-specific will.
- Some people draft their own will. In this case it is important to understand that state requirements vary, and most require you to have two witnesses to sign the document. Of course, you will need to make sure that someone you trust knows where to find the document upon your death.
- Some employee benefit programs may offer a will as a “value added” benefit. If you are working and eligible for employee benefits, this option may be worth checking into.
The bottom line is this: don’t be intimidated by the process. Preparing a will is easier than ever, and if you’ve been putting it off simply because it seems daunting, you could be making a big mistake. Going through the process gets you thinking about other things you may want to do, like review your insurance to make sure you have the right type of coverage and amount.
And once you have your will, review it periodically! Life events happen – you may get married, have children, get divorced, or open your own business. Preparing your will is the first step. Keeping it current is just as important.