Between one-third and two-thirds of Americans do not have a will — a legally binding document that records your wishes about the distribution of your property and assets after your death. Wills are not just about your material things; they are also about people. Wills allow you to name a guardian for minor or disabled children. Wills also allow you to nominate the person to carry out your wishes and manage your estate at your death, also known as an executor or personal representative (PR). The PR will make sure your affairs are in order, from paying off debts before assets are distributed to canceling your credit cards.
Americans may neglect to get a will because they falsely believe they do not have enough assets to warrant creating a will, are too young to need one, and/or that their money will automatically be handed down to their next of kin. However, most everyone needs a will.
The COVID-19 pandemic is inspiring more people to create a last will and testament, especially younger people. For example, 32% of people between the ages of 18 to 34 reported they finalized a will because of COVID-19. You do not need the threat of a pandemic to realize any time is a good one to get your affairs in order.
A Will Ensures Your Wishes Are Followed
When you die without a will or estate plan, your property is distributed according to the state laws where you live. This process is known as intestate succession. Typically your assets are distributed among your family, such as your children, spouse, parents, and/or siblings. Without a will, you will not have any control over how these assets are distributed, and funds may be allocated to family members you do not wish to receive them.
Unfortunately, this is a relatively common occurrence. A recent slate of celebrities, including singer Aretha Franklin and Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, passed away without having a will in place. Their families are now going through the process of navigating the court system to determine their heirs and distribute the assets.
A Will May Reduce Family Conflict
The passing of a loved one is fraught with emotion. Of course, your family members will feel grief. However, any disagreements that arise over your final wishes and the division of assets may also cause hurt feelings and resentfulness. Making your desires clear can reduce speculation over what you wished and conflict over who receives what. With a plan in place, you will be able to have peace of mind that your intentions are clear and family members will not be left to navigate unnecessary confusion in an already difficult time.
Family feuds may be particularly troublesome when it comes to the care of people in your charge. If you want to create a smooth and clear line of responsibility for an adult or minor child with disabilities or guardianship for your minor children, you need a will.
Other Estate Planning Tools
A will is not the only life and estate planning document you may need. You may also consider a living will, which outlines how your health care should be managed while you’re living; a durable power of attorney, which designates a person with the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so; and a power of attorney for heathcare, which appoints an agent to assist and advocate for you when consulting with health care providers.
If you are ready to discuss your comprehensive estate planning needs, contact an estate planning attorney or contact our office, at 505-872-0505.