A majority of Americans (55 percent) admit they don’t have a will, according to a 2016 Gallop poll, and other surveys suggest even fewer Americans have estate planning documents in place. Nobody wants to think about planning for his or her own death, but it’s something every adult should consider—sooner, rather than later.
Writing your will helps to ensure your wishes for dependents, property and assets are followed, and to help avoid long, costly legal proceedings over the distribution of assets.
According to Gallop, “Americans’ likelihood of having a will depends largely on their age and socioeconomic status. Sixty-eight percent of those aged 65 and older have a will, compared with just 14 percent of those younger than age 30. Of Americans whose annual household income is $75,000 or greater, 55 percent have a will, compared with 31 percent of those with incomes of less than $30,000. And while 61 percent of those with a postgraduate education have a will, only 32 percent with a high school education or less do.”
Even if you think you don’t have enough assets, writing a will is still important and can spare your family the difficulty of dividing what property and assets you do own. Here are are five things you should know about writing a will:
Everyone needs a will. If you die without a will, it can be very costly to your family and heirs, and you will have no say over the division of your assets. State heirship laws take over. Writing a will alleviates the burden placed on your family after you die. A will also allows you to specify funeral arrangements and to predetermine who will take care of your children—this is the primary reason even young adults who have children should have a will.
Work with an attorney. Every state has different rules and regulations regarding wills. It is in your best interest to work with an attorney who fully understands the legalities surrounding writing a will in your state and is experienced in estate planning and death taxes. Hiring an attorney to help you write your will ensures that you have a properly created legal document.
Carefully select the executor of your will. This is the person you will assign to carry out your final affairs after your death. Choose someone you trust who you know will be up to the task. You may also want to choose a backup executor in the event your first choice is unable to serve as executor upon your death.
Discuss your plans with your family. After you plan your estate, take time to discuss those plans with your heirs to help prevent confusion or disputes down the road. Family conflicts are unfortunately common when dealing with a loved one’s estate, but by planning ahead, you can help reduce or eliminate any potential arguments among your family and children after you die.
Consider a trust as well. Unlike a will, a trust can go into effect as soon as you create it. It is a legal arrangement in which you designate an individual or an institution (such as a bank or law firm) as your “trustee” to hold the title to your property. You can also designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive what is left of your estate after you die. A trust will only cover property that has been transferred into the trust. Any property you wish to be included in your trust must be put in the name of the trust. A trust does not pass through probate, which can save both time and money. Because a trust is not probated, it can remain private.
An experienced wills and trusts attorney can help you determine if you need to set up a will or a trust to handle your estate and guide you through the process. An attorney will explain the legal terms and help ensure that your will or trust is drafted properly so there are no questions in the event of your death. Your attorney can also help review your financial assets and double check who can receive what from your retirement accounts.
Do you need a will or trust? Contact the experienced legal team at The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare. We can prepare your will and/or trust quickly, with minimal hassle to you.
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