Most people don’t want to think about their own deaths. But that event is unavoidable, and if you want control over where your assets go after your death, you need to write a will. If you’ve been putting off this task, you are certainly not alone. Many people avoid writing a will because they simply don’t want to think about their own deaths, or they assume that death is something that will happen decades in the future.
Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over your death, but if you write a will, you do have control over some of the things that happen after your death. Wondering where to get started? Here are five essential facts to consider.
1. Without a will, state intestacy laws apply.
If you don’t write a will, the state will decide what happens to your assets and to your minor children. The laws that govern this are called intestacy laws, and they vary from state to state. Generally, however, they distribute your assets (and your minor children) to the relatives who are considered closest to you under state law.
In some cases, intestacy laws can work well. For instance, if you live in a state where all of your assets go to your spouse, you may be fine with that arrangement. However, if you want your assets to go to your adult children instead of your spouse, these types of laws can wreak havoc on your wishes. To ensure you have control over what happens, you need to write a will.
2. You need an executor.
Your executor will help to carry out the logistics related to the will. They can be an attorney, a family member, or anyone you trust. Let them know where your will is located and if possible, give them a copy. Make sure to alert them if you update the will. Multiple copies of different wills can lead to legal issues after your death.
3. Minor children need guardians.
If you have minor children, they are arguably the most important part of your will. Consider who you want to take guardianship of your children if both you and their other parent die. Talk with potential guardians to make sure they’re up to the job, and also name some backup options in case your named guardians die before you do.
4. You can list all your assets or just give away your entire estate.
When you write a will, you can divvy up your entire estate to your beneficiaries or you can list out entire assets. You can also choose a hybrid model. For instance, you may want to leave a third of your estate to your spouse, your son, and your daughter, but then, you may want to leave your motorcycle to your best friend and your favorite painting to your favorite co-worker.
5. A trust can provide additional benefits when paired with a will.
In addition to writing a will, you may also want to set up a trust. A trust can help your heirs avoid probate. Probate is the legal process that confirms the legitimacy of your will and distributes your assets based on your will. When your assets go into an trust after your death, your heirs don’t have to deal with the legal process of probate.
A trust can also allow you to set up rules about how your assets are distributed. For instance, if you don’t want your children to inherit all of your money in cold cash, but you do want them to be able to access funds to go to college or to start a business, you need a trust. A trust allows you to create these types of conditions. Unfortunately, a will on its own doesn’t have this capability.