by Dana George | Updated July 23, 2021 - First published on June 26, 2021
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A will can make life easier for those you leave behind.
At one time, I thought the idea of having a will drawn up seemed to tempt fate. And then, I realized that I'm a control freak and wanted to have the final word on my finances and who would care for my children if I died before they were grown. Getting the last word was ultimately why I chose to visit an attorney (in those pre-internet days), but there are at least nine other reasons everyone needs a will.
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Your will is where you let the court (and world) know who will act as guardian to your children if you pass away while they're still minors. Typically, if one parent dies, the other parent gets sole legal custody. If you both pass away, you'll need someone else to provide your kids with housing, education, food, clothing, healthcare, and other necessities. Ideally, the person (or people) who agree to be guardians to your children will also love them and help meet their emotional needs.
Whether your estate is worth $2,000 or millions, a will allows you to nominate an "executor." This should be a person you trust to take care of your affairs when you're gone, including closing bank accounts, liquidating assets, and letting creditors know that you've died.
Not to get preachy about this, but if you don't have a will, the court chooses an executor of estate for you. And let's be honest, even if you're no longer around, there are just some people you trust more than others.
Probably my favorite thing about a will is the ability to update it as needed. As our family has grown and five new people have been added (two daughters-in-law and three granddaughters), I enjoy figuring out what I want them to have. Although I suspect that none of them will care about the "stuff" they're left with, it offers me one last chance to tell them how important they are to me.
A will also ensures that some people don't get anything from your estate. Let's say you have an ex-spouse who did you wrong or a sibling who will assume that what's yours is theirs. You can head off any potential fights by making it clear if someone should be omitted.
I didn't realize until my mother passed away last year that a person lives forever on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and email. According to Medium, there are as many as 30 million dead people with active Facebook accounts. It's estimated that between the years 2065 and 2110, more dead people than live people will have Facebook accounts.
Once I'm gone, I'm pretty sure I won't care if my mug shows up on social media, but the truth is, I don't want that for anyone in my family. Having my face show up as a friend suggestion after I'm gone just seems unkind. A will allows us to tell the executor to permanently delete all social media accounts.
Like many people, we worry about what will happen to our pets when we die. Our will not only spells out who they will live with if my husband and I die simultaneously, but it also earmarks a specific amount of money to their guardians for care.
We have two sons who get along beautifully, but grief brings out a wide range of emotions and behavior. If there's one final favor we can do as parents, it's leaving an ironclad will (and family trust) that spells things out so clearly there is virtually no room for disagreement.
A will allows you to remember the charities that you've cared about in your lifetime. Let's say you routinely have money transferred from a savings account to your favorite food bank or pet rescue. That doesn't have to end with your death. A will provides you with a way to keep up with charitable donations, either as a one-time gift or ongoing commitment.
I get that funerals are important rituals for many people. I have a couple of aunties who love a good funeral cry. That said, when I die, I want the money that would have gone toward the cost of a big, fancy funeral to be spent at a big, not-so-fancy barbecue joint where the people I love can enjoy a good meal and time together. My will makes my wishes crystal clear.
Once your wishes are spelled out, all your loved ones have to do is follow the instructions. They'll know who's taking the pets, where your furnishings should go, and even whether you want a New Orleans-style funeral parade. At a time when their emotions are sure to be raw, and a million things are being asked of them, you can help ease the way by giving them a map to follow.
There are several ways to make a will. For $5 to $20, you can purchase a ready-made will form at an office store and simply fill in the blanks. At a cost of $20 to $100, online will-writing software is another option. A good software program regularly updates state laws so you end up with a will template that fits your state of residence. It's a slightly more sophisticated version of the ready-made form.
If you decide on a DIY will (whether you write it out yourself or follow a template), you'll still need to research state rules. For example, most (but not all) states require that a will be filed with the state for it to be valid. And where the will is to be filed depends on where you live. It may be with the probate court, county clerk, or a register of wills. You'll also need to know whether your will needs to be notarized.
If you're at all nervous about doing it yourself, call a few attorneys in your area to find out how much they charge for a basic will. It could be anywhere from $100 to $1,000, but using an attorney allows you to tap into their legal expertise. Once an attorney has drawn up your will, they can go in and make updates whenever you request them.
Whether you write a will yourself, use will-writing software, or work with an attorney, the process is fairly straightforward. It doesn't take long, and once you're done, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you've done all you can to make life easier for those left behind (while also getting the final word).
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