We’ve all seen movies where a group of relatives sit in a lawyer’s office anxiously waiting to hear what a recently deceased family member has “left them” in their will. These scenes suggest that you only need a will if you have a vacation home or a collection of priceless heirlooms. But a will is an important part of your overall financial plan, regardless of your financial or family circumstances.
If you have a home, possessions or pets and you would like to have some control over what happens to them after you die, you need a will. Despite this, 61% of Americans don’t have a will and 70% with children under 18 don’t have one¹, meaning that, if both parents die, there are no legally appointed guardians to take care of the kids.
What is a will?
A will is a document that identifies who will be the executor of your estate after you die and who are the beneficiaries. Your estate is everything you own, whether it’s a car or a collection of photographs and the executor is the person who will carry out the instructions in your will, distribute your assets accordingly and settle any outstanding debts. Your will should also name someone to serve as the legal guardian of your minor children in the event that you and your spouse die at the same time.
Why you need to make a will
If you die without a will, your state will generally step in to name an administrator who will distribute your assets according to a set formula based on state laws. More importantly, if you have not identified a guardian for your minor children, the court will appoint a representative to look after their interests. Although this process is designed to be fair, it is unlikely to reflect your personal wishes. A will gives you the opportunity to think about these things in advance and it can also help prevent the family conflicts that often occur when a person’s last wishes are unclear.
Do I need to work with a lawyer?
You should consider working with a lawyer, especially if you have children, a large estate or if you’re concerned that someone might contest your will. Some attorneys will prepare wills for a flat rate price so shop around, but choose an attorney who regularly prepares wills as part of his or her practice.
Also, some member-based organizations offer assistance with legal documents. For example, Foresters™, an international financial services provider, offers its members access to a nationwide network of attorneys that can help with estate planning needs through its members-only Legal Link benefit². Click here for more information on Foresters membership.
When should it be updated?
Like all important financial documents, your will should be updated after certain life events including marriage or divorce, the birth of a child, a move to a different state or if the executor or one of your heirs die before you.
¹ Harris Interactive study on behalf of Rocket Lawyer, March 2013
² Foresters member benefits are non-contractual, subject to eligibility requirements and limitations and may changed or cancelled without notice.
For details, visit foresters.com.