Wealthy or not, here’s why you need a will

According to the AARP and NBC, nearly 60% of American adults do not have a will. To me, that says most people don’t understand the importance of a will. No matter the size of your estate, if you don’t have one, you need one now! Here’s why:

Without a will, state law determines who gets your money and things. Dying without a will is called dying intestate. When you die intestate, you have no say in who gets anything that is yours. When you have a will, survivors know exactly who you want to have what. There is a formal, legal document that tells everyone. Your survivors aren’t as likely to object to the distribution when your wishes are clearly stated. When they are not, the likelihood of family fighting and wasteful spending of your estate assets increases.

You can appoint someone you trust to be in charge of your estate when you have a will. Without one, the court decides who the executor will be. It could very possibly be someone you may not feel has sound financial judgment or the same financial priorities or values. Without a will, none of that matters. The court substitutes its judgment for yours, often with the biased input of survivors who have money at stake.

A will provides you with the opportunity to determine what happens to your remains when you pass away. You can specify whether you want to be buried next to your spouse or favorite person, or you can choose to be cremated and have your ashes released at sea.

When you have no will, you can’t protect your inheriting survivors from themselves. Your property and money will go to them outright. If they can’t manage money, there is a chance everything could be gone in no time. This could be detrimental if they need the money to last in order to support themselves due to physical, intellectual, or other incapacitation.

With a will, you can make a very difficult time for your loved ones less difficult. Losing someone you love is painful, chaotic, and overwhelming. Planning a funeral can be very difficult. Having the estate arrangements prepared can provide relief, a sense of calm, safety, and confidence at a time when your loved ones need it most.

If you die with a spouse and children who are also the children of that spouse, the children inherit your 1/2 interest in community property, 2/3 of your separate personal property, and rights to the homestead upon the death of the surviving spouse. That can be a problem if you want your surviving spouse to have your community and separate assets to support her and raise the children in your absence. It’s also a problem if you want your spouse to be able to leave your real property to whomever she chooses. Whatever you want in this regard, many hard feelings and resentments can be avoided when your spouse and children know exactly what you desired.

In the unlikely event both parents die at the same time, a will provides your wishes for your children’s future. Without one: Who will take care of your children? Where will they live? Where will they go to school? Who takes possession of and manages their assets? Who will raise your children? You can decide, or a stranger who has never known you or your kids can make these decisions for you.

Having a will is a gift to both you and the people you leave behind. Give what you want some thought, and then put it down on paper sooner rather than later.