10 Important Reasons Why You Need a Will

Gathered family and children with dog in the middle all sitting on a sofa

Almost two-thirds of all Americans lack a valid last will and testament. Some people think they’re too young to need a legal document outlining what should happen with their estate after they die. Others believe only wealthy people need a will. Some have a will, executed years ago, but they haven’t updated it to account for intervening divorces, births, adoptions, marriages, or other life events. And still others are simply procrastinators who “haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

But there are many important reasons to have a will, regardless of your net worth or age. Here are the top 10 reasons this task is too important to delay any longer:

  1. If You Die Intestate, the State Takes Over.
    When you die without a will, or “intestate”, your state’s inheritance statutes will decide who gets what. It doesn’t matter that you promised your dad’s classic car to your brother, or a percentage of your brokerage account to your favorite nonprofit, or your vacation home to your second wife—if it’s not recorded in a valid will, you lose control, and the state makes these decisions for you.Half to your surviving spouse, if any, half to your kids, in equal shares, outright, nothing in trust, not even if some of your kids are underage, and nothing at all to your siblings or collateral relatives. Ouch!
  2. You Get to Choose a Guardian for Your Minor or Disabled Children
    If you have a child who is under age 18, or who is  disabled and cannot live alone, creating a will allows you to choose their guardians in the event both you and their other parent dies and to set aside assets for their care, keeping those assets under management until they reach an age you choose. But if you don’t have a will, the probate court (a specialized type of court that deals with the property and debts of a person who has died) will decide who should be your child’s guardians, without regard to your wishes, and at best your child’s inheritance will be held in a custodial account until they reach age 18.  (see #1, above).This is not an outcome anyone would choose, but it is what the state intestacy laws will impose if you do not have a will.
  3. A Will Is Not Just for The Rich.
    No matter how large or how small you imagine your net worth to be, you should make a plan to distribute your assets after you pass. If you have no heirs, or if your heirs are already well taken care of, you can gift some or all of your assets to benefit a cause in which you believe. Even if you have only modest wealth, if you live in a state that has an inheritance tax, you will want to plan to minimize or avoid that tax. Leaving something to charity can help with that planning. Besides, when people make a will, they are often surprised to learn that they are worth a lot more than they thought!
  4. It’s a Source of Comfort.
    Creating a valid will means you’ll know your final wishes will be respected and the people and causes you care about will be looked after. What better peace of mind is there?
  5. You Can Provide Instructions for Your Funeral
    Writing a will allows you to have a say in how you leave this earth. You can specify burial instructions, type of service, whether you want a viewing or not … even the music played at your service. Of course, any burial service will likely occur before your will is actually filed with the probate court, so you will want to be certain your executor has immediate access to the will in order to be able to make those arrangements in accordance with your wishes.
  6. It’s The Best Way to Take Care of a Spouse, Partner, Child, Grandchild …
    Writing a will allows you to make provisions to care for a loved one after you’re gone. That could mean protecting certain assets for your spouse, or providing support for the special needs of children or grandchildren, especially if they face costly illnesses or disabilities. Apart from setting up a custodial account for a minor child, the state intestacy law does not provide any mechanisms for protecting or managing distributions to heirs. Everything goes outright, and in shares determined by statute, not by the individual needs of your heirs.
  7. A Will Settles Family Disputes and Eases Grief.
    If you designate who gets what in a legal will, Aunt Peggy can’t argue with Cousin Fred over who gets grandma’s cherished chinaware set and basket collection. Your children can’t squabble over what Mom or Dad would have really wanted. A will lays everything out, exactly as you wish. But if you die without a will, your family will have to untangle your affairs, guess at any gift intentions, and spend a lot of time, money, and effort in probate court while the court settles your estate, making sure the lawyers, as well as an administrator not of your choosing, get paid — and that’s going to compound the grief they’re already feeling at your loss.
  8. You’ll Get to Choose an Executor.
    If you don’t have a will, the probate court will decide who is in charge of handling your final affairs. It won’t matter if you planned to entrust that role to your favorite brother or a neutral, trusted family friend. If it wasn’t recorded in your will, all bets are off. 
  9. You Won’t Lose Power Over Your Hard-Earned Assets.
    If you die without a will, the fate of everything you own will be decided by strangers. That includes your physical property, your monetary assets, and even any digital property and content, such as your Facebook account, email address, photos stored in the cloud, or other online resources. By creating a will, you’ll have the opportunity to decide what happens to everything. And you will be able to make gifts to your favorite causes. 
  10. You’ll Be Able to Choose a Caretaker for Your Pets
    While you cannot leave assets to your pets, you can designate who cares for them. You can also set aside assets to provide for their care. But if you don’t have a will, the court will decide — and the court doesn’t care that your pet Benji prefers Aunt Gladys over Cousin Phil.

Planned giving makes the world a better place. And creating a valid will is the first step toward protecting your family, preserving your legacy … and making that planned gift. 

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