The sad truth is that most of us — some 70% of adult Americans — have neglected to write a will. Some think their assets are just too puny to worry about, others worry that the costs of writing a “last will and testament” are too high. But wills aren’t just vehicles for the wealthy or the morbid. If you’ve got a family and a home — not to mention a savings account — you should definitely have one. Cost is no excuse.
A recent MarketWatch article, titled “Why wills aren’t just for the wealthy,” sheds light on this important life-planning topic.
Like many people in the U.S., you may not think about estate planning until you have kids. A will is critical when you have children, because people think about what would happen if both spouses die at the same time. Without a will, a probate court judge will be tasked with selecting the individual who will care for your minor children as a guardian. That could be just about anyone, including a person you would never ever pick to take care of your kids! Why not name someone yourself right now? You also should name an alternate guardian in the document in the event your first choice is unable to serve.
Writing a will is also your opportunity to detail who gets what in your estate. But before you can do that, you need to count your assets. This includes your house, investment portfolio, retirement plan account, and the proceeds from any life insurance coverage. After doing this exercise, many folks see that they’re worth more than they initially thought.
Next you need to decide what you want to leave to whom and who will be executor of your estate. The original article notes an important caveat: check and see that the beneficiaries listed in your will match the beneficiaries you name for your insurance policy, 401(k), and any other retirement accounts. These documents trump your will.
You may also want to do more complex estate planning, such as a trust. Most people create these to protect their heirs from having to pay hefty estate taxes and perhaps to protect their heirs from themselves if they are not very good with money.
The original article reminds us that once you have a will in place, don’t forget to update it on a regular basis and to change it whenever you have a significant change in your family, like a birth, a death, or marriage. Doing all this prep work for when you’re gone may seem like a hassle, but it’s nothing compared to the headaches your heirs will have without solid estate planning in place.
Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can guide you through these and other considerations.
Reference: MarketWatch (March 17, 2015) “Why wills aren’t just for the wealthy”