What? You don’t have a will? You really need to correct that, for your own peace of mind as well as to protect your estate, your wishes, and your loved ones. Many people shy away from this subject, but making a will is not morbid, it is sensible and practical. It gives you control over what happens to your belongings and assets after you pass away.
Yet, 40% of Americans over the age of 45 do not have a will.
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?
Everyone dies. But exactly when that happens is usually not predictable. If you die without a valid will, your already-grieving family will have to face months (or perhaps years) of additional grief and hassle while some court-appointed administrator sorts things out. And that person will have to follow the letter of the law. Any promises you made or wishes your loved ones now have will not matter.
You Can Do This!
If you have complex assets, it’s best to consult an estate planning attorney to get help drawing up a will. An attorney who specializes in estate planning can help you explore options such as pre-death gifts and living trusts. That can be smart for anyone, even if your estate is not large or complicated, and it is certainly simplest to have a professional handle the legal paperwork.
On the other hand, you do not need a lawyer to create a will. There are lots of online resources and forms you can use to do it yourself. This easy-to-follow guide from LegalZoom walks you step by step through the process.
Each state dictates what constitutes a valid will in that jurisdiction. Here in Georgia, for example:
- You must be at least 14 years old. See, you’re already one step closer to getting this done!
- You must be mentally competent. This brings up an important point – if you or your spouse have been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s or a terminal disease, it is crucial that you make a will while you still have the ability and the legal standing to decide what will happen to your estate.
- Your will must be hand-written or typed. Georgia does not recognize oral wills or those that are audio- or video-recorded.
- The will must be signed by you and two witnesses. Georgia also does not recognize holographic wills (hand-written but unsigned).
What Should You Put in Your Will?
The most important point of a will is to instruct your executor how to distribute your financial and physical assets. The executor will oversee this effort, in effect serving as your stand-in. Make sure to give your executor permission and access to pay your bills and handle any other “loose ends” after you pass.
You can choose anyone to perform this function – a spouse, adult child, friend, your attorney, or financial advisor. But be sure to ask their permission first. This is not an easy job, and it can be quite time-consuming.
Your will should be very clear, so there is no question what you wanted. You can attach a separate list of who gets what, called a letter of instruction, but if you want to be 100% certain, include the details in the will itself. You don’t have to list everything you own, you can simply identify any specific bequeaths (monetary or tangible items), and allow your executor to sell or give away the remainder as they deem most practical. This kind of flexibility will help settle your estate faster and more smoothly for everyone.
You can include related details in your will, too, such as burial instructions.
Review Your Will Periodically
If you already have a will, when was the last time you read it over? Things change, and your desires may have changed as well. Experts recommend reviewing your will every three years. Be sure to review insurance policies and retirement accounts, too, because you should have specified beneficiaries for each of those when you first opened them.
Making a will not only protects your assets, it ensures they will be distributed just as you like. Even after you are gone, your treasures can live on with loved ones or friends, keeping you in their hearts and minds.
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