Writing a will is usually not the first thing on people’s minds. Procrastination is a common reason for not having one, whether this is because they’re uncomfortable thinking about their own death or they believe they have all the time in the world.
However, this type of thinking could put your family at risk. A will can help provide a measure of financial protection to your family, by spelling out your final wishes.
A will is a common document that you may already be familiar with. It generally outlines legal instructions for dividing your estate after you’ve died, including assets such as your home, car and bank accounts. However, there are many other things besides property and personal belongings that you can include in a will.
Parents of minor children typically use a will to name a legal guardian to care for their kids if they were to pass away. They can also choose when their children may inherit their share of the estate, such as having them wait until they are a certain age or requiring that they graduate from university first. Parents may also wish to set aside money specifically to pay for a child’s higher education.
Through writing a will, you can also name an executor of your choosing. This person will be the one carrying out your final wishes and putting your affairs in order. They may be responsible for paying off bills or debts, closing bank and credit card accounts, and distributing your estate to the beneficiaries listed in the will.
You can also use your will to give specific gifts to a family member or friend, such as passing down heirlooms or a prized collection. Many people also donate a portion of their estate to a favourite charity, university or their place of worship.
What happens if you don’t have a will
So, what happens if you pass away without leaving behind a will? In short, your estate may not be distributed according to your wishes.
Someone who dies without a will is referred to as “dying intestate.” In these cases, there are specific legal rules that will determine who inherits your estate and how much they will get. This process, known as probate, can be lengthy and even stressful for family members. They may face confusion and anxiety during what is already a difficult time, especially if you were to pass away suddenly.
During the probate process, a court may need to make decisions about the following:
- Appointing an executor to distribute your estate
- Choosing legal guardians for any minor children
- Selecting who will inherit your estate, and
- Determining how much each person will receive
The court will use legal guidelines to make their ruling, which may not match your wishes. For example, an estranged spouse may be entitled to all or some of your estate if you are not yet divorced. The court may overlook some of your family members or friends. Money you want set aside for a specific purpose, such as your children’s education, could go on something else.
How you can protect your family
Writing a will is a must for anyone who wants to ensure their final wishes are carried out. Without it, a court may make decisions that could have a major financial impact on your family.
Having a will can greatly speed up the probate process. It may still take months to distribute everything , but this process could potentially take up to a year or more if you don’t have a will. Your family could suffer financial hardship waiting for the estate to be settled.
You’ll also be able to choose your own executor, someone you know and trust to take care of your final affairs. This person (or persons) will be responsible for gathering together your assets and distributing as outlined in your will. If you do not have a will when you pass away, this job could go to someone you do not trust, who could potentially hide money or assets from members of your family.
A simple will is enough for most people, and you can prepare it without the help of a lawyer. Check the legal requirements of writing a will for your country or region before you start. However, if your estate is complicated or you’re not comfortable with drafting a will yourself, is may be best to consult an attorney. Keep in mind that you can update your will at any time, as your family’s lives and circumstances change.
What’s not included in a will?
A will can help protect your family financially upon your death. However, there are some matters that may not be suitable to include in this document.
Any life insurance policies you hold do not need to be included in your will, as long as you’ve named a beneficiary on the policy. The life insurance company will simply pay the policy benefit to the person or persons named as beneficiaries. If there are no beneficiaries in your policy, then it does become part of your estate.
Property that is part of a living trust or within a joint tenancy do not take place in in a will. A living trust does not go through probate, so including this property in a will is unnecessary. Additionally, updating a living trust requires special paperwork, and this cannot change through a will. Joint tenancy property, by law, automatically goes to the surviving joint tenant, regardless of what your will says. It’s always advisable to speak with a lawyer if you have questions about living trusts or joint tenancy properties.
Finally, you may want to avoid leaving funeral instructions in writing a will. The settling of an estate usually happens after the funeral has taken place. A copy of the will may not even be located or read until after the funeral. Instead, speak with your loved ones about your funeral wishes. You can write a separate document of funeral instructions, and give this to the executor of your will or a trusted family member for when the time comes.
A plan for the future
A will is one of the most practical ways you can help ensure that your final financial wishes are carried out. This document can legally protect your spouse, children or other loved ones, by spelling out exactly how you would like your finances handled after you’ve passed away. Without one, your family could face lengthy delays and unneeded stress. Taking the time now can help them through a difficult time and allow you to rest a little easier.