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 emotional and legal entanglement. A visit to a lawyer now can save a lot of future uncertainty, if not outright heartbreak, for loved ones already reeling from your loss.
Having a will ensures that your wishes are honored and that your assets are handled the way you want. But to do that, questions must be asked.
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.
But 55 percent of Americans die intestate, or without a will, according to the National Bar Association.
What happens then?
State law will determine how assets are distributed. Typically, the line of inheritance starts with a spouse, then continues to children, and then to other family members.
"55 Percent Of Americans Die Intestate, Or Without A Will, According To The National Bar Association."
The problem with that is that a nameless official making this determination 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 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 how do you create a will, anyway?
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.
“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.
"merely copying a form or someone else's will could have disastrous results"
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 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 “do-it-yourself’’ will form. This could be a good option for a single person with limited assets.
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 make a will with an attorney is about $300 to $600, according to legal websites.
Naming an executor, a person who will oversee the will after you die and make sure your wishes are followed, is a crucial part of the process. Think hard about this and make sure the person is trustworthy and has the time and interest in doing this.
It’s smart, legal experts say, to let this person know in advance.
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 do that. Clue them in on financial arrangements set aside for the children’s care.
Communicate with those you want involved, schedule a visit to a lawyer 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.