Whether you’re young or old, making a will usually ends up at the bottom of the to-do list. Some people procrastinate in making a will because it can be uncomfortable talking about issues surrounding death. Others put it off because they believe that the process is too complicated. Still some don’t believe they need a will until they hit “old age”. Whatever your reason for not having a will, here are six good reasons why you should rethink that decision.
Name a guardian who will take care of your children.
An important reason to prepare a will is to designate a guardian who will take care of your minor children. You may assume that your spouse will be able to care for them, but what if you die simultaneously? Tragically, it can and has happened. If there is no surviving parent and you have not designated a guardian, then the court will decide the issue. Leaving the decision in the hands of the court may unwittingly start a custody battle between family members who think they know what is best for your children. We all hate to think about dying and leaving young children behind. You owe it to your children and family to plan for that possibility. Make sure that you designate who you would like to serve as guardian for your minor children in a will.
Name a manager for your children’s property.
In addition to a guardian, you need to designate someone in a will who will manage your young children’s property if you should die. The person who you name as custodian of the property does not have to be the same person as the guardian. The custodian who you designate in your will would also be responsible for making distributions on your children’s behalf for their healthcare, education and welfare.
Give specific bequests of tangible personal property.
We all know that a will can be used to designate who we want to receive our personal treasures after we die. For example, your will can state: “I give my diamond ring to Nancy, if she survives me. If Nancy doesn’t survive me, then to Mary.” It is not uncommon for family members to squabble over the most insignificant items of personal property. If you designate who will receive your personal property in a will, you are more likely to keep peace in the family after you pass.
Choose who will receive your assets.
If you die without a will, the State will decide how the assets in your estate will be distributed to your heirs. You might be surprised by how this works. For example, if a husband dies before his wife or vice versa, the wife does not automatically receive the husband’s entire estate. The laws of intestacy (dying without a will) dictate that the surviving wife must share her husband’s property with his children. If the husband did not have any children of his own, then the wife must share the estate with his surviving parents.
If you are not married and you die without a will, then your estate will be split among your biological and adopted children. Your stepchildren are not legal heirs and therefore will not receive a share of your estate unless you specifically name them in a will. You will also want to make a will if you want your children to receive different legacies. If you die intestate, the black sheep of the family will receive the same share as the child who has remained close to you.
Designate who will be in charge of your estate.
After you die, someone needs to be appointed to attend to your estate. In Maryland, this person is referred to as the personal representative (PR). If you don’t have a will, then the court will choose a PR for you. Because the PR may have a lot of discretion when administering an estate, you want to name a trusted individual as PR in your will. At least then, you will feel more confident that your estate will be distributed according to your wishes.
If you wait, it may be too late.
If you think that you are too young to need a will, think again. Accidents can strike at any time. Some people put off making a will until they become sick which is sometimes too late. You must be of sound mind to execute your will. If you can’t understand the provisions of the will or you can’t convey your wishes, then you are not legally competent to create a will. Creating a will when you are sick can also open the door to legal challenges from heirs who either were not named in the will or did not receive what they were expecting. Even though you may have been competent when you executed the will, heirs can challenge your capacity in court or contend that you signed it under duress. Prepare your will before you become ill to avoid these possible legal nightmares.
If you don’t have a will, make this task a priority to give yourself a peace of mind that you have provided for your family. In addition to a will, medical and financial powers of attorney and an advanced directive are critical estate planning documents. Find an estate planning attorney and prepare a plan that is right for you.