7 Minute Read
We know making a will isn’t fun to think about. And you probably only care about someone’s will during that crucial scene in a movie when you find out what the rich old lady left her scheming family to squabble over. Right?
None of us are promised tomorrow, but many of us still live like we’re invincible. A 2017 survey from Caring.com found that nearly 6 in 10 American adults don’t have a will.(1) That’s crazy! The truth is, those dependent on you are dependent on you making a will—even if you may not own several homes or consider yourself wealthy.
What Is a Will?
A will serves as a legally binding document that gives you control of whatever happens—or doesn’t happen—to your estate after you die.
Your will also specifies who your executor will be (the person you pick to split up your stuff). If you have young children, a will is even more important because you can choose who your kids will live with after you pass. Do you really want them moving in with that distant relative who hates kids? This short document is your chance to assign how you want things to go.
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Why Making a Will Is Important
Each state has its own laws when it comes to settling the affairs of someone who doesn’t have a will. If you don’t have one or if it’s determined to be invalid because it wasn’t done the right way or signed, a judge will appoint an administrator. This person has no connection to your family and will take charge of probate (the legal process of transferring your property to your heirs). That doesn’t sound too good, does it?
Let’s be real here: You wouldn’t want a stranger or (worse yet) the government to manage your affairs when you’re alive, so why leave it to chance after you die?
A will is the last gift you’ll leave your family and loved ones. It makes the management of your assets clear and simple for everyone involved. If you don’t have a will in place when you die, there’s no guarantee your wishes will be followed.
Dying without a will puts an unnecessary strain on your family. Not only will they be grieving, but they’ll also be dealing with the mess you’ve just left them—potentially for years. Plus, they’ll be stuck with a pile of legal fees to get it all sorted out. Failing to make a will isn’t just dumb; it’s selfish.
What Does a Will Cover?
When making a will, you decide who inherits your property, your money and your investments after you’re gone. A will also provides a great opportunity to leave a donation to your church or favorite nonprofit. You can even use your will to plan your funeral or memorial service. How else will your family know you want your coffin decorated to support your favorite sports team?
You and your spouse could create mirror wills. Everything is pretty much the same in both wills with the exception of the names. If one of you dies, the surviving spouse will get the entire estate. Keep in mind: when someone does pass away, you need to keep the will for seven years.
A will also lets you determine who will take care of your children (if they’re minors) once you die. That way, you can make sure your kids are raised by the people you actually want to care for them. If you haven’t made a will, a state official might make that decision for you. Terrible, right?
What Does a Will Not Cover?
Your will won’t cover your retirement funds, such as a 401(k) or an IRA. Those will be transferred to the beneficiary you name in your investment documents. The same goes for a life insurance policy. This will be paid to the beneficiary you’ve listed in the policy. Just because you’ve left something to someone close to you in your will doesn’t mean they’ll receive your retirement or life insurance benefits—unless you’ve noted it in the proper places. Don’t forget to do this.
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How to Make a Will
Don’t let the idea of making a will fill you with dread or visions of long, expensive lawyer visits. If you’re looking to make a simple will to take care of basic things like your property, children, investments and personal items, then you can do it online without ever seeing a lawyer!
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Making a Will Online
The easiest and most cost-effective way to go about making a will nowadays is to use an online legal service. You can use a free service or one that charges a small fee. Quicken WillMaker, Rocket Lawyer or LegalZoom are all great options. All you need to do is fill in your information and the will is tailored to you. Did you know that when a lawyer drafts a will, they use a similar form to fill in your details that an online service provides? So don’t feel bad about cutting out the middleman.
Just remember to choose the correct state you’re living in and follow the rules when it comes to having your will signed and dated by appropriate witnesses. Failing to do this can invalidate your will! To make things easier still, you could also visit your local OfficeMax, Office Depot or Staples store to buy a standard will and testament ready-made form.
A will produced online or on a store-bought form is just as legal as if a lawyer did it. But you can still consult a lawyer when using these forms if you have any questions or concerns.
Hiring an Estate Attorney
For some situations, you may want to consult an attorney. For example:
- You have a large estate
- You have assets in a different country
- You wish to remove someone from your will
- You have concerns about someone contesting your will or claiming you weren’t of sound mind when you signed it
While these events and situations are not common, they’re complicated enough to get some professional guidance from an estate attorney—but obviously this will cost you.
Where Should I Keep My Will?
Dave recommends you put together a legacy drawer to store your will and other important documents. A legacy drawer is a simple file or folder that holds documents your family would need if something happened to you. Make sure it’s waterproof and fireproof. It should contain original versions of your (signed and witnessed) will, estate plans, insurance policies, tax returns, funeral instructions, passwords and more. Like we said earlier, this isn’t fun. But it’s a necessary step to ensure you’ve protected your loved ones.
Regardless of how you do it, making a will is something you need to do—no matter what stage of life you’re in. The truth is, we’re all going to die someday. So, why not leave legacy as your final, most meaningful gift you to your family?
Having a will is a critical part of protecting your family and your future. To find other types of protection you may need, check out our new Coverage Checkup Tool.