Why Everyone Needs a Will. Wills Are Not Just For the Rich
Who Needs a Will?
- Single Adults- If you die single the law of your state decides who gets your belongings and assets. If you have a will you are on control.
- Parents- A will is the best, and sometimes the only, way to make sure you decide who will take care of your children if you die and they are still growing up.
- Parents of Special Needs Children- Children with special needs often continue to need care long after they reach the age of 18. The law does not always protect these children, having a will helps you to continue to watch out for them.
- Partners- If you are not married, or your marriage is not legally recognized everywhere a will is the only way to make sure your partner receives everything you feel they are entitled too. You cannot depend on the courts or your family to "do the right thing".
- Married Couples- Every state has different laws and rules about what happens when someone dies without a will. In some places your spouse may have to split whatever you have with your children, parents, and siblings.
Wills are one legal document everyone should have. Many feel that wills are only for the rich, or only for people with assets. However, having a will helps ensure your children and spouse are taken care of in the event of your death, that whatever you have goes to the people you want it to, and whatever money and assets you do have are not eaten up with unneeded court costs. Wills can actually be relatively cheap to obtain. If you do your homework, you can even create your own will. Not having a will can create a disaster after your death.
Dead and No Will
If you die without a will, your jurisdictions “intestate laws” kick in. Dying intestate simply means dying without a will. Every state has a different set of rules that govern this situation. Most split the assets with the living spouse and the children. Most people prefer to leave all of their assets with their spouse, assuming they will take care of the children. Without a will your spouse could be left with only 1/3 of whatever you had when you died, or even less. A few states even give siblings and parents a cut of the assets, potentially leaving your spouse and children with even less.
If you have children, and especially if you have children from previous relationships, a will is essential in announcing who you want to take care of them.
Who Will Take Care of Your Kids When Your Gone?
Protect Your Children
When a parent, or parents, of a child under 18 dies, the child will need two kinds of protection. One, they need a home to live in. Some states will allow a biological parent who has only had limited contact with a child to argue they should have full custody of the child, even if the child has lived most of their life with the surviving step parent. A will can allow you to testify from the grave as to what you think is in the best interests of your child.
Another issue is money. If you die without a will and a child is left with life insurance, a settlement, or other sums of money they cannot legally handle the funds if they are under 18. You need to choose someone to handle the child’s financial affairs in the event you die. Couples need to plan their wills so that if for some reason they both die at the same time, or close together, their children are protected financially and physically.
Do You Have an Updated Will?
When You Are Not Married
If you are not married, or if you are married, but your marriage may not be recognized everywhere, for example same sex marriages, having a will may be the only way to ensure your partner is taken care of. Dying without a will often leads partners, even those who have been together for decades, without any share of the assets. Sometimes the partner is even kicked out of the house because the right legal formalities were ignored.
The law in this area is cold and inflexible. If you want to make sure someone receives something when you die it had better be in the will or it likely will not happen.
Everyone Needs a Will
Heath Ledger Died With an Out of Date Will
Keeping a Will Updated
Once you have a will, it is important to review it once every two years, or when big life changes happen. One sad cautionary tale is the case of actor Heath Ledger. When he unexpectedly died his will was three years old. He had a two-year-old daughter who was no tin his will. After his passing there was a contentious legal proceeding that was expensive and emotionally unnecessary fro all of Heath Ledger’s loved ones.
If you don’t update your will, it can be as bad as not having one at all.
Cost of Getting a Will
There are many self-help books and websites for writing your own will. Remember, every state is different. Make sure you understand what the rules in your state are. Sires like Legalzoom.com can also offer great help in writing your own will. These solutions often cost less than $50.
However, having a lawyer write you a will can give you greater piece of mind. The more complicated your situation, for example if you are not married, or have children from more than one relationship, hiring a lawyer is essential to making sure you get things done correctly. Lawyers can also answer questions you may have about what is possible. Lawyers charge a wide variety of prices. A simple will should cost between $100 and $300 in most places. Even a little bit more complicated will should cost under $500 in most cases.
Regardless of if you are going to hire a lawyer or do it yourself, before starting the will process make a list of everything of value that you own. This list includes things like bank accounts, cars, your house, retirement accounts, and jewelry. Next write down what you want to happen to all of these things when you die. This exercise will help put you in the right frame of mind for writing a will and will save you time and money, especially if you hire a lawyer.
No one wants to think about his or her own death. But, the cost to your loved ones of not planning ahead should be even more painful to contemplate.
© 2013 Forseti