Why You Need A Will (even if you think you don't)
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty about the future for millions of Americans. In fact, the increased level of anxiety triggered by the deadly, global health crisis has caused 25 percent of American parents with children under the age of 18 to realize that estate planning should be an immediate priority for them, according to a recent study by the insurance and wills website Fabric. But it's not just parents with young children who should have a will in place. Experts suggest that no matter your age or how good your health, it's best to draft a will earlier in life, rather than later. Here's why.
Wills Are Not Only for Those With Significant Assets
While you're young, you may not yet have accumulated substantial net worth. But that's no reason to ignore creating a will, says Karen Bussen, founder and CEO of Farewelling, an online platform designed to help people navigate funerals and end-of-life planning. "Even if you don't have a lot of assets, you can use a will to communicate instructions clearly to loved ones. An example would include guardianship for a pet, or what you'd like done with artwork you've created," says Bussen.
It Avoids Having the Courts Step In
If you die without a will, the courts will step in to settle your estate and there are certain rules that dictate how money, property or possessions should be allocated, says Lucas Robinson, CMO of Crediful, personal finance site. In many cases, a probate court will oversee distribution of the assets of the deceased.
"Your estate will be subject to the intestacy rules and these rules are stringent and inflexible, which means your assets are distributed in accordance with the law and not with your wishes," says Robinson. "By making a will you're ensuring that your wishes are carried out and gifts of sentimental value are left to the intended beneficiaries."
Wills Help Avert Family Disputes
By taking the time to create a will, you'll leave family members with a clear picture of who gets what after your death, says Chuck Czajka, certified estate planner and founder of Macro Money Concepts. "This will hopefully prevent arguments between family members," says Czajka.
You Can Assign Guardianship of Children
Another important reason to create a will early in life is to assign guardianship of your children in case something should happen, says Bussen.
"No one in early adulthood or even middle age wants to think they're going to die, but it does happen," says Bussen. "And we hear all the time from people that they've lost a loved one who didn't have a will or leave any instructions and it really can create chaos in a family."
Establishing a will allows you to name the people you'd like to serve as guardians for your children. It also gives you the opportunity to set aside money that's specifically to be used for raising your children.
You Want a Say in End-of-Life Medical Care
It's difficult to think about such things, particularly when you're young, but if you have strong opinions about how you would like your loved ones to make decisions in the event that you need end-of-life care, you want to create a living will, says Jonathan Breeden, a North Carolina-based family attorney who specializes in wills and estate planning. "This will relieve them of the burden, ensure that your wishes are carried out," says Breeden.
Your Family Can Focus on Grieving
The death of a family member can be hard on everyone involved, says Czajka. Having a will in place eases the burden on loved ones. "Death creates pressure to make stressful decisions about property, belongings and financial affairs," says Czajka. "Creating a will helps to keep things organized so your family members can grieve easier knowing they are following your wishes."
You Own or Are Part of a Business
Owning a business is not just something that happens later in life. People are starting businesses at every age these days. In fact, millennials are the fastest growing segment of small-business owners. If you're the founder or co-owner of a business, having a will is critical. "It's important to create a will that addresses how your company, or share in that company, should be handled if you pass away," says Breeden.
It Doesn't Take a Lot of Time
Allison Kade, money expert for the site Fabric, says the median time it takes users on their website to complete a will is about seven minutes. And about 75 percent of people are finished within 10 minutes. The bottom line: creating a will is not as intimidating, or time consuming as you may think. "Creating a will online can be a good place to start outlining your wishes," says Kade, who says doing so will help you to begin thinking through the answers to key questions such as who you'd like as your beneficiaries, legal guardians, and executors.
You Want to Leave Money to Charity
As already noted, if you die without a will, the courts will step in and distribute your assets. If there are charities you would like to support with some portion of the estate, no matter how small your estate may be, creating a will makes sure that happens.
You'll Give Yourself Peace of Mind
It can be stressful creating a will later in life when you may be unwell, fighting illness, or elderly, says Branka Vuleta, founder of LegalJobSite. "You get freedom from the stress of creating a will later on when you prepare it earlier," says Vuleta. And if you do create a will early in life, bear in mind that you can revisit and amend it at any time, which is critical to do periodically, particularly after significant life changes such as marriage, the birth of children and accumulation of assets.
You Can Specify Funeral Wishes
Do you have specific ideas about how you'd like your funeral to be conducted? Would you rather be cremated than have a traditional burial? Creating a will provides the opportunity to specify all of these wishes and instructions.
Unexpected Things Happen All the Time
As we've all seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, being prepared for life's surprises is essential, no matter your age of stage of life, says attorney Mary Kate D'Souza, founder and chief legal officer for the estate planning website Gentreo.
"Every capable adult American should have an estate plan including a will, health care proxy and power of attorney," says D'Souza. "As we all have seen during this pandemic, your life can change in an instant, and it's important to be prepared in order to protect your choices and give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind."