Thinking about death or what will happen after you die is not something most people enjoy discussing; however, with the uncertainty of the world, it should be a topic everyone discusses, no matter what age you may be. When we are young, we do not want to think about death as the mentality is we’re too young to worry about those things, we think we will have plenty of time to think about retirement and the distribution of our property in later years. As we get older, life gets busy and we do not put that necessity in the forefront of our thoughts, we are dealing with our day-to-day life. Suddenly we become ill or have an accident and having a plan as to how to distribute your property becomes important. Don’t wait. In today’s world, we know too well that unforeseen tragedies happen every day, so it is important to have a plan for both you and your family, and a will is one way to articulate your wishes. Here are a few basic questions and answers about wills. Be sure to talk to an attorney to help draw up or amend your will.
Who should have a will?
The short answer is, everyone, no matter how old you are. A will is a legal document that details what should happen to your estate (property and children) after you die. A will allows you to articulate who gets your house, your personal property, bank accounts, and most importantly, who will take care of your children.
When should I get a will?
If you are over the age of 18 and have any property, assets or children, it would be a good idea to have a will prepared. Wills do not have an expiration date and can be easily updated for any changes in your situation, as an example:
You have a accumulated assets
You have children
You own a business
You have gotten married
You bought a home
Wills do not have to be complicated or drawn out. They can be simple and straightforward. It may seem unnecessary, but if something were to happen to you, you would be saving your loved ones from having to deal with the State and court systems.
What happens if I do not have a will?
If you die and you do not have a will, someone will have to ask the Probate Court to appoint a personal representative to administer the estate and that can lead to arguments and controversy among your living heirs as there can be differences in opinions on who that individual should be.
For example, if you have three children and die with no will, one of them can request the Probate Court to appoint them as the representative, or all three can ask the Court to do so and they can “duke it out” in Court to see who the representative will be. Understand, the one the Court appoints may not be the child you would choose to administer the estate.
Having a will with your wishes clearly stated could eliminate all of that.
What information is part of a will?
It is not enough to just have a will, you must have the right information included. An attorney will help guide you through the process and ask questions about what assets you have so they will know what should be included. There are some basic decisions that should be included in just about everyone’s will including:
Naming a personal representative - who will be in charge of honoring your wishes and distributing your assets after you die.
Funeral wishes - Do you want to be cremated? Buried? Funeral service at a church or a funeral home or memorial service at a later date?
Legal guardian of children - if you have minor children who do you want to take custody of them? It is often good if those you have chosen to be the guardians of your children know about this responsibility prior to your passing.
Naming of beneficiaries - if you have property, money or any other asset, a will allows you to decide who takes control or takes possession of each of your assets.
When should I update my will?
Wills should be updated every time you have a major life event. A good rule of thumb is to at least look at your will every five years. Chances are it will need some tweaking. Here are a few reasons to update your will:
You have your first child. It will be important to include them as beneficiaries and appoint legal guardians.
You are thinking about divorce. It is better to change your will prior to filing for divorce. If you should die before the divorce is final your soon-to-be ex-spouse may be entitled to more than you wanted.
You have gotten divorced.
Your child becomes a legal adult. You may want to change your executor to one of your children once they become an adult.
Your named executor or beneficiary dies.
You have a financial windfall. You may want to add beneficiaries or change the amount given to your current beneficiaries.
What is a trust?
A trust is a fiduciary arrangement which allows you to set up your assets to be held and managed by a third party. A fiduciary is a person or organization that acts on behalf of another person or persons. A trust is not necessary for everyone. There are circumstances in which a trust would better suit your circumstances than a will. For most people, a will is sufficient.
Who should have a trust?
A trust is not needed for everyone, but if you have a substantial amount of real estate or have a net worth of at least $500,000, a trust might be something to look into. Trusts allow more control than wills. A trust will allow you to manage and control the spending of your beneficiaries, manage assets not easily divisible, like a vacation home or pet.
There are many reasons to have a trust, but they do require more time and effort to create. Be sure to talk to an attorney to see if setting a trust is right for you.
Where should I keep my will?
A will can be kept in your home, but be sure to keep it in a safe location that is known by several people. A locked safe, file cabinet or firebox are all good locations. If the cabinet or safe has a key or combination, be sure to let someone you trust (spouse, child, or attorney) know where the key or combination is located. Your attorney should always retain a copy of the updated will, so if you cannot find your original, the attorney can provide you with a copy or have you complete a new one.
Having a will or trust will give you peace of mind, in case of a sudden illness or accident. An attorney will help you navigate what is best for you.
Click the link below to check out my short Q&A video on Wills and Trusts on YouTube!
Kimm Burger, Attorney
I want to hear your side of the story.
KB Law Office P.C.