Do I need a will?

Turning Points 4 min read

A will might sound like something your parents or grandparents need, but the truth is, none of us know what the future holds. There are many reasons to have a will, and no matter your age, having a will is important. If you don’t already have one, don’t worry — you’re not alone. A 2022 survey by found that while 56% of people agree that having a will or an estate plan is important, only 33% have one.

No one’s future is guaranteed. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. Like a will, life insurance provides peace of mind that the people who matter most to you are protected if something unexpected happens. Learn more about the different types of life insurance and which option is best for you.

How do wills work?

A will is a legal document that lays out your final wishes, leaving instructions on how your property should be distributed after you die. Creating a will is important because it lets everyone know how you want things handled after you die. Those instructions are necessary for someone else to step in and decide who gets what since you may not like what they would choose without knowing your instructions.

You can also use a will to:

  • Name someone to carry out your wishes
  • Name who will care for your minor children
  • Decide how to pay for debts and taxes
  • Provide for pets

However, it’s important to note that wills do not cover everything. Anything jointly owned with someone else, assets that have a beneficiary, property that is held in a trust, stocks or bonds and digital assets typically are not left in a will. If you have any of these assets, consider talking to an estate planning expert who can help you get started.

Who needs a will?

Many people think they don’t have enough assets to bother with a will, but estate planning is important even if you don’t have a sprawling estate. Consider a will if you are married, have children, or have many assets.

Do I need a will if I am married?

Even though your spouse will likely inherit your assets if you die without a will, you don’t want to leave it up to chance. Also, if you want someone other than your spouse to inherit your things, you need to clarify that.

Do I need a will if I have children?

If you have children, it’s essential to designate who will take care of them after you’re gone and who will manage their assets. Just like with a spouse, your children will inherit a portion of your assets even if you die intestate – that is, without a will. A will is your chance to say how much of a share they get.

How to create a will

Making a will is easier than you think. Start by putting together a list of your assets. You might include the contents of safe deposit boxes, family heirlooms, and anything else you want to leave to a particular person or organization. If you have personal property that you’d like to leave to specific people, create a list of those items so you can include them in your will. You can write a will yourself. This can be a simple and cost-effective way to create a basic will, and there are thousands of online tools to help you.

You can also consult an attorney to write a will. If you need additional help in understanding your options or have any complex considerations, like a second marriage, children from a previous relationship, or dependent family members with special needs, it may be worth spending the money to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure that you properly execute the required documents. The thing to keep in mind about a will is that, by the time you find out there are problems with it, it’s usually too late. Even if you make the will yourself, it’s probably wise to have a professional look it over to avoid problems.

Once you’ve created a will, review it regularly as part of your end-of-life planning. Marriage, divorce, a new job, a new home, and a new baby are all life events that can change how you want to distribute your assets. Review and update it as needed every two or three years or after major life changes. It’s also smart to check periodically to see if your state has updated laws that could impact your will.

Why do I need a will?

When you die intestate, the state oversees the distribution of your assets. In many instances, a judge or state official will use a set formula to divide your assets. That can result in part of your estate going to your spouse and part to your children if you have any. In many instances, it may result in selling assets such as your home or other physical assets. Selling off assets can make things harder for a surviving spouse who was counting on those things to help maintain their standard of living.

The situation can get even more complicated if you have children who are minors. If your children are under 18, the court may appoint a representative to oversee their finances.

Dying without a will can also be expensive. Your assets will likely go into probate, a complicated and costly legal process. Fees vary by state, but attorney and court fees take 3% to 8% of an estate’s value. On top of that, your family may spend months or even years wrestling with the courts over who should get what.

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