As Ben Franklin once stated, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
So why is it that less than 40% of American adults have a will?
Most people know in the back of their minds that they should have one. Maybe it’s because thinking about our legacy highlights our mortality—and let’s be honest, that can be a scary thought—but so many people avoid thinking about what would happen if they died. Of those who do have a plan, many don’t understand the plan they have in place, or it doesn’t do what they think it does. But they don’t take the time to seek wise counsel and ensure that their wishes will be carried out, their loved ones will be cared for, and that the causes they’re passionate about will benefit from their hard-earned estate assets.
Let’s start with the basics: A will is a binding document that articulates one’s wishes for what should be done with their money and property after their death. However, wills are revocable, meaning they can be changed at any time—as long as the holder is of sound mind—if there are changes in life circumstances or wishes. So, any will is better than none…but a comprehensive one is going to serve you best, even if it changes down the road.
There are so many reasons to have a will, but today we are going to focus on five:
When you have a will in place, you get to make the decisions regarding distribution of your assets.
You get to outline how assets will be distributed, to whom, and how much, rather than the state making decisions on your behalf. Dying without a will—or dying “intestate”—opens up the doors for people outside of your family to decide what happens to your assets. Without your explicit designations, an important relationship could inadvertently be ignored by the court. Having things spelled out helps prevent family disagreements and ease the grieving process.
When you have a will in place, you get to decide who will care for your minor children.
This is something you don’t want the state to decide! A court may grant guardianship to an aging out-of-state relative, simply because they’re the closest in lineage…even though you have a best friend about your same age who parents like you do, has kids in your school district, and even attends the same place of worship. One way to be a good parent, even in the unlikely case of your early death, is to ensure your child(ren) end up in the most positive situation possible.
Having a will means your family will avoid the lengthy probate process.
Although all estates go through the probate process—with or without a will—a will speeds up that process by providing direction from the get-go. And because there’s a cost associated with probate and legal fees (usually 3-8% of the entire estate value), being decisive and clear means significantly more money available for heirs and charity.
A will can make provisions for charitable gifts and donations.
An overwhelming percentage of Americans support charity during their lives, and it’s a smart thing to make charitable gifts after death, too! Giving through an estate is not only highly tax-efficient, but can also make use of non-liquid assets that are suddenly available. Plus, it can inspire family members and even involve them in generosity. Charities can be named as beneficiaries, or contingent/secondary beneficiaries, on a life insurance policy, retirement account, or investment fund. But including charity in your will, in the form of a cash bequest or gift in kind, is an excellent way to give back to organizations you love. This allows your legacy of generosity and positive impact to live on.
A will can reflect family changes and adapt to unique dynamics.
Again, wills are revocable, meaning you can make changes to them at any time. We suggest reviewing your will every five years or any time there’s a major change in your family, assets, health, or lifestyle. Major reasons to update your will might include marriage, divorce, remarriage, other changes in a blended family, birth or adoption, or a death or estrangement. On the one hand, you won’t want to leave assets to someone who you no longer have a relationship with, for whatever reason. But on the flip side, you don’t want to accidently disinherit children from a former marriage simply because of the wording in your will! A good lawyer, or gift planning counselor, can help you review your documents.
By now, hopefully you’re understanding the importance of having a will in place that spells out your wishes. Die without a will (intestate), and there is no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out! Tomorrow is not promised, so make a plan today.
Legacy Planning Consultant
Tamara’s faith is the foundation of everything she does. She’s perfectly at home singing on a stage, hiking to find the perfect waterfall, or cuddling her grandbabies at the family cabin. Tamara’s demeanor and sense of humor put people at ease, so at Apex, she spends as much time as possible on the road or on the phone serving people. She lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with her husband, Glenn, and near her children and grandchildren.