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Ever hear a story about a famous person who died without a will? Stars like Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Bob Marley and even accomplished public figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln all died with no written will.
When this happens, cousins by the dozens could show up at court claiming their “dear relative” told them they’d receive a large inheritance. What a mess! Sometimes it takes years to sort out.
Want to help your loved ones avoid that kind of courtroom drama after your own death? It’s pretty simple to take care of. Let us help you with this.
What Is a Will?
A will, or last will and testament, is a signed, legally binding document that explains exactly how you want your property and other assets to be handled after your death.
You can also put information in there about how specific items are to be dealt with, and if you have children, who will care for them and how. If you don’t want them to go live with mean Aunt Betsy, your will spells out where you do want them to go.
Creating a will allows you to decide beforehand where you’d like your assets to go after you’re gone. That’s what a last will and testament is all about. You get to decide who gets all your stuff. Single or married, it matters.
What Happens If I Die Without a Will?
When you die without a will, it’s called dying intestate. Basically, it means you haven’t left a written testimony about your after-death wishes. So, if there’s not a will, guess who gets to make all these decisions? The government! Just like in the famous cases above, the state law determines how to distribute everything you have. And the final outcome may (or may not) reflect what you’d like to happen!
If you’re not prepared with a simple will, the courtroom could turn into a free-for-all with your family members in the center ring! You don’t want that, right? So, get everything prepared beforehand. Here’s what you’ll need . . .
What to Include in a Will
Now, you’ve decided to make your will, but what needs to be in your will? As a bare minimum, be sure to include . . .
The Executor, or Personal Representative – You’ll appoint someone who will make sure your wishes are carried out to a T. This might be a lawyer you’ve hired if your will is a bit complicated. But many people just choose a level-headed and honest relative. One of your adult children or a close family friend would do just fine. The Personal Representative will do more than just read the will. They’ll also make sure all other end-of-life business gets taken care of correctly.
The Beneficiaries – If you’re married, it may be as simple as just naming your spouse as the one who receives all your assets. But you’ll definitely want to have some other beneficiaries named in case your spouse isn’t still alive when you pass away.
The Inheritance Instructions – Next, you’ll want to spell out what you want each of the beneficiaries to receive. If you have children, it might just be a simple percentage of your assets or a dollar amount you want each of them to have. The instructions may also include list of specific items you're leaving to friends and family members. It’s all up to you!
The Guardians – If you still have children who are minors, you’ll want your will to specify who will take charge of them when you’re gone. Maybe it goes without saying, but be sure to talk with your choice of guardians before naming them in the will. This decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.
What Does a Will Not Cover?
Be sure to handle these other items not covered in your will. You might want to make a note in your will about where these documents can be found.
Retirement Funds – Your company 401(k) account or IRA accounts will already have beneficiaries named for them in the original documents.
Life Insurance Policy or Policies – The beneficiary, or beneficiaries, for your life insurance are also taken care of apart from your will.
Joint Tenancy Assets – If you and someone else (like your spouse) hold a joint title to anything (like a house, a bank account, a vehicle), then the ownership would automatically pass to the surviving person.
If you want to make changes to the people receiving these funds, be sure to get in touch with the fund manager or insurance company directly. Don’t assume changing the beneficiaries in your will means these documents will be changed also. It’s a separate matter altogether, but should really be coordinated.
Make sure your family has the coverage and protection they need if you were to die suddenly by taking our 5-Minute Coverage Checkup. You’ll want to make sure everything’s fine before it becomes an emergency.
Do I Need a Will?
Sure, you may be thinking, I’m single, and I don’t have any children. Why do I need a will? But what if the worst happened and you did die suddenly? Someone will have to make decisions about your stuff. No one wants that responsibility. Honestly, having a will simplifies everything for your loved ones in a time when they really need simple.
It’s a little easier to see the need for a will when you’re married—and especially when you have kids. If the unthinkable happens, you want to make everything as easy as possible. You want it all spelled out for your loved ones after you’re gone.
Bottom line? Get a will. It’s better for everyone involved. Once it’s done, you and your loved ones will rest easy knowing this is one less thing they’ll have to take care of in an already emotional and draining time.
You can create your will with an attorney, but for most people, it’s much simpler to do it online. If you’re ready to get started, you can actually create your will in 20 minutes or less.