There’s a reason why hearses don’t carry luggage racks. When we die — and we all will, painful as that thought might be — everything that we worked for in our life stays behind.
What remains, in many cases, is an emotional and legal entanglement. A visit to an estate attorney now can save a lot of future uncertainty, if not outright heartbreak, for loved ones reeling from your loss.
Having a will ensures that your wishes are honored and that your assets are distributed the way you want. But to do that, you'll have to ask yourself, as well as answer, some difficult questions.
Where will your money go? Who will care for your children? How do you guarantee that your grandmother’s antique radio goes to that cousin who spent hours listening to it?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way to ensure that these questions are answered the way you would want.
According to a recent poll by Caring.com, the number of older adults with an estate planning document has decreased by 12 percentage points since 2019.
When you pass away without a will, your state's intestacy laws will determine how your assets are distributed. Typically, the line of inheritance starts with a spouse, then continues to children, and then to other family members
The problem is that a probate court following intestacy laws does not know you or your family.
What if you want to give more money to your sister who struggles to pay her bills? What about your best friend, who you consider family but who, according to the law, is not? Or maybe you want to bypass certain family members altogether and leave some or all of your estate to charity?
The only person who knows this is you. And the only way your heirs will know this after you die is by having a will.
So make the decision to get your affairs in order and get your will written.
Let’s start with one way you shouldn’t make one: Alone on a scrap of paper.
A few scrawled handwritten lines, especially if they are not notarized, or witnessed by two people who stand to gain nothing from the contents of the will, can cause more problems, according to Steven Weisman, senior lecturer at Bentley University in Waltham, MA.
“Anyone can write their own will. They can also take out their own appendix with a pen knife and they might end up doing more damage with the will than the pen knife,’’ he said.
Ouch! So what is wrong with self-made wills? “The biggest problem is that lay people generally will not know what needs to be done for their particular will and merely copying a form or someone else's will could have disastrous results,’’ he said.
With subjects as critical as potential guardianship of your children, having a lawyer help you create your will according to your state's laws can ensure it is valid. That process, he said, “is generally not expensive, particularly when compared with resolving problems created by someone who writes their own will.’’
There are also online sites where you can download a DIY will form. This could be a good option for a single person with limited assets. You can also consider getting a will done through a website that provides online legal services.
For Massachusetts residents, masslegalservices.org can be a valuable resource. But some financial experts say that making a will is a complex process that can benefit from legal involvement. The cost to create a will with an attorney is about $300 to $600 on average, according to legal websites.
Naming an executor or a personal representative, a person who will oversee the will after you die to make sure your wishes are followed, is a crucial part of the process. Think hard about who you want taking this role and make sure the person is trustworthy and has the time and interest in the job. A job it is.
It’s also smart, legal experts say, to let this person know in advance. You can do this by providing them with a photocopy of your will.
Of course, you certainly should make sure that the person or people you select to care for your children after your death are willing and able to take on the responsibility. Clue them in on financial arrangements set aside for the children’s care.
Communicate with those you want involved and schedule a visit to an estate attorney today – then go on with the joys and challenges of life.
After all, to quote the great philosopher Snoopy, we’re all going to die someday. But we are going to live every day until then.
Others are reading:
- What Happens to Your Money When You Die?
- Things to Know About Passing Retirement Accounts to Loved Ones
- What Is a Totten Trust?
- Here's the Difference Between an Heir and a Beneficiary
- 3 Benefits of Having a Will