The one thing that most of us don’t want to think about is our own demise. I’m young and healthy – I don’t want to think about dying. But unfortunately, it’s a possibility, and if that happens, I need to make sure that my family is protected. So have you given it some thought? Do you need a will?
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without a will, everything you own is passed on by the succession rules in your state. That might mean that family members who you don’t like might get their hands on the money or property you left behind, or money might not go to the people who need it the most. For example, where I live, if I had died before I got married, everything I have would have passed to my parents – which is fine, but I’d prefer the money go to my siblings to be used as they raise their young families.
You might have items that you’d prefer go to a certain family member – like you want your jewelry to go to your sister – but without a will, everything gets split up evenly, and your sister might not even get a single item.
Who Really Needs a Will?
If you don’t have much or don’t care where your property goes, then sure, I suppose you don’t need a will. But there are some people who absolutely do need a will. Do you have children? You need to have a will to specify who will get custody of your children if you die. And you don’t even need to have children born yet to put them into a will – your will can simply discuss “any minor children.”
You also reduce tax liability for your heirs if you have a properly executed will. Don’t want the government to take more of your money? You need a will.
Are you in a committed relationship but not married? Do you want your partner to inherit your items? Even if you own your house together, all of your personal property doesn’t automatically go to them – and that means that you could have other family members arguing with your partner about which of you actually paid for the couch in your living room.
Even if you think your property distribution is easy, leaving a will makes things so much easier for those left behind. There is a piece of paper that tells them what to do and who gets what. It can prevent disagreements, and it can help you ensure that your wishes are carried out.
How to make a will
I always recommend that people talk to an estate attorney, but if you have a fairly simple situation, you can likely use an online will preparation program or a “lawyer in a box” company. Your goal is to just get your wishes put down on paper.
My husband and I ended up with a much more complex situation than we thought, due to property ownership and strange laws regarding citizenship, so we spent a chunk of money hiring a good lawyer to put together our wills, but unless something major changes (like we get divorced), that will is good forever. It covers children and grandchildren, neither of which exist yet.
The emotional side
I will be honest, I really struggled with putting together our wills. Our lawyer was great. She asked very specific questions and we gave very specific answers, but it was emotionally very hard to think about. I didn’t want to think about what it would mean if something happened to me and my husband was left alone. I hope to live a long, long life. But at some point, that life will inevitably end, so it makes sense to get this in place while we are young and healthy, and then hope in many, many decades, our descendants unearth our wills to figure out who gets what.
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Megan is a 30-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.