Do I Need a Will?Do I Need a Will

It’s a cruel fact but let’s face it: Someday each of us will die. We don’t like to contemplate it and we don’t like to think about making a will. But if we die without a will it can cause real hardship to our surviving family. Even if they eventually receive the money you leave behind, it can be a long, drawn-out process. Your loved ones may even be hounded by creditors because your money is tied up in probate. Making a will can give you a sense of accomplishment and you will have the peace of mind that your family will be taken care of after your death. If you have assets, like a house or savings account, and you have people you want to be taken care of when you die, like family or friends, then you need a will.

Especially if you are responsible for minor children or stepchildren, you should leave funds to help their caretaker if possible, and name a relative with whom you have discussed raising them. Unmarried couples should each have a will; the laws about this are gradually changing, but as of this writing, the surviving partner could have a court battle with the family on their hands. You may also choose to designate a portion of your assets to your favorite charity or religious organization. Having a will can also keep your children and relatives from fighting over what you leave behind.

Preparing a Will

A will gives direction on how you want to dispose of your real property, financial resources and personal items. If you have a will, you need to update it periodically, especially if you have moved to another state or if there have been important changes in your life or in your property. Husbands and wives often draw up a will together, but if one passes away it may be necessary to update the will, especially if the surviving spouse remarries.

The upside is that for most people, making a will isn’t expensive or difficult. There is software available or you can find a site online to help you do it yourself, if your estate is not complicated. Some sites are free, others charge a modest amount. Or you may choose to use an attorney to draw up your will. Laws differ by state; some states only require your will to be signed or notarized; some want it to be more formal. Look into what the requirements are in your state.

Listing Your Possessions

Whichever way you go, you will need to start by making of list of everything you own that is to be transferred upon your death. You might want to take a few days to do this as you will likely remember things to add to the list. The big items would include your home (if you are purchasing it), any rental or commercial property you might own, a vacation home, your car(s), motorcycle, boat, motorhome, aircraft, timeshare, and such. If you own valuable jewelry, watches, a coin or stamp collection, expensive antiques or art, you should include these, too. Any stocks, bonds, investments, IRAs and any bank accounts should be listed. You had no idea you owned so much, did you? We haven’t even gotten to furniture, collectibles and power tools. Going through the files where you keep important papers can remind you of assets that need to be mentioned in your will. Don’t forget the contents of your safe deposit box.

One friend of mine had several valuable figurines and small antique items. Whenever any visiting family or friend would particularly admire one, she put a sticky note on the bottom of the item with their name on it after their visit. We were all amazed when her adult children contacted us and told us, “Mom wanted you to have this.” She had stipulated in her will that whatever personal items had the label with a friend or relative’s name, they were to get that item. What a sweet legacy.

This article is only a guideline. It is not legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Please consult an attorney for your estate planning needs.

Senior Advisor's knowledgeable writers blog about senior care services, trends and more.

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