"I have an app on my phone and it reminds me 5 times a day that I’m going to die,” is exactly what one of my friends told me recently. I stopped and thought about what she said, coming to the conclusion that I didn’t find it morbid. In fact, I think it’s a little weird that we don’t talk about dying more often; that we go around living our lives, putting things off as if we have all the time in the world.
And yet, in the finality of death, there is still everything and everyone we leave behind. Who we are gets reduced to a pile of things and a paper trail that our loved ones must sort through. Those who have passed on without passing their things on, via a will, may be leaving their loved ones in the wake of figuring out their debts, finances, guardianship, health decisions, funeral arrangements and a tangled bureaucratic ball of red tape. Not to mention court appearances, paperwork, the possibility of estate taxes, administrator fees and family members fighting over what they think you would have wanted. All of that on top of losing a loved one.
Who Needs a Will?
If you’re an adult, you probably should have a will. If you have kids, you most definitely need a will. If you have a business partner, a spouse, parents and friends, you probably should have a will.
Even if you’re relatively, young, there may be some compelling reasons for you to write a will. If you received an inheritance, even if it’s in a trust, you should consider writing a will. Or if you have specific wishes for a beloved fur baby or reptile family member, you should write a will. And if you want to control your digital legacy, how to handle your social media accounts and your photographs, you should write a will. If you have history of mental illness in your family, consider a will since a mental illness may deprive you of the agency to make major life decisions.
A Last Will and Testament, AKA a will, is a legal document. It states your wishes after you pass away. A will usually answers these five questions:
Who gets your stuff?
Who will take care of your (minor) children?
Who will be in charge managing and representing your estate and taking care of your last affairs?
Who will make decisions on your behalf if you cannot?
What are your wishes for any end-of-life medical care?
Optional: What are you other final wishes for specific things like funeral arrangements, digital legacy, pets?
If you die without a will, you will die “intestate”. Your estate is all your money and property. Without a will, your estate goes into “intestate succession” and your property will be divided according to the state law where you lived.
How to Write a Will
Hire an Estate Planning Attorney
You can hire an estate planning attorney to draft your will and handle all of your end of life planning. This isn’t necessary for everyone. It’s recommended for anyone who has a complicated estate or life situation. For example, families with special needs children, high net worth, very wealthy people whose estate may be subjected to estate taxes should consider hiring an estate planning attorney. If you have financial obligations, concerns relating to a divorce you should seek advice from an attorney that specializes in estate planning and family law. If you’re elderly and government benefits are a critical part of meeting your financial or health care needs, you should seek advice from an estate planning attorney who specializes in elder law.
An engagement with an estate planning attorney has 3 main steps, lasts for about 1 month, and costs $3,000 on average. The first step is getting to know your situation, the second step is drafting the documents and the third step is signing and executing the documents.
Use Do-It-Yourself Online Software
Another option is using a do-it-yourself will online via a platform like willing.com. It’s a much cheaper option and although estate planning documents are a lot of boiler-plate language, you can still tailor your documents to your specific situation. The online option is also great if you need to get your documents done in a pinch and you don’t want to be without them between now and when you can meet with your estate planning attorney. There is still some lead time doing it online, so you don’t wait until the night before you and your spouse are leaving the kids at home and going on an international trip.
Life is crazy and in an instant everything can change. Investing a couple hours out of your day today can save your loved ones hours of dealing with red tape and headaches.