You might think you have plenty of time before you need to write your last will and testament. However, you may want to think again. No matter your age, financial circumstances or position, having a will is an important basic step that you shouldn’t continue to ignore. Even if you have a will in place, it’s a good idea to review it periodically to make sure it still conforms to your wishes.
If you die without a will, your assets will go through the probate process. A judge will make decisions about how they are to be distributed, based on community property laws or state inheritance rules. In either case, these decisions may or may not coincide with your intentions.
Also, probate can be an expensive and time-consuming process that exposes the details of your estate to public scrutiny. The probate process can take months or even years, depending on the size and complexity of your estate. And the fees charged by attorneys and executors can diminish the amount of money your heirs ultimately receive. By creating a will detailing how your assets should be distributed, you’ll simplify the estate settlement process for your loved ones.
Set it up step by step
Drafting a last will and testament is one of the best ways to avoid these consequences. And the good news is that creating a will doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.
First, decide whether you’ll hire an attorney or create a will on your own. While online programs and software can guide you through the process, nuances can complicate a seemingly basic situation. Hiring a professional with the expertise appropriate to your needs is vital, particularly if your estate is relatively large and complex.
Next, you’ll identify your heirs and beneficiaries and name an executor for your estate. This person will be responsible for ensuring that your intentions communicated in the will are carried out. Many people choose their spouse or a close friend to serve as executor. But the duties of an executor can be complex and time-consuming, so be sure the person you designate can fulfill the executor’s duties.
If you have minor or dependent children, you’ll need to name a guardian who’ll raise them until the age of majority. Give this decision careful consideration and make sure the person or couple you choose is willing to accept the responsibility.
The final step is to assess and divide your property. List all your assets and assign a percentage of your total assets to each of your beneficiaries. Or make individual bequests of specific assets or property to heirs. Keep in mind, also, that certain assets, such as IRAs and life insurance, are designed to be transferred without regard to your will. The named beneficiary will inherit the property even if your will says otherwise. Review your beneficiary designations to make sure they reflect your wishes.
Delay isn’t an option
For your own peace of mind, act now to ensure you have a last will and testament in place — and then review it periodically as your circumstances change over time. Get professional financial and legal advice to help you make the most advantageous arrangements for yourself and your heirs.