A will is the primary legacy planning document for most people. Yet despite that fact, seven out of ten Americans don’t have one. Some people simply don’t think they own enough to establish a will, or don’t know how to start. Or maybe they think wills are too expensive, or just don’t want to make the difficult decisions that must be made. Studies show that many people just procrastinate.
However, the cost of putting this off is high if the unexpected happens. The legacy you built over the years will be out of your control. The good news it that you can make decisions now to protect the future for you and your family, and preserve your legacy.
A will gives you the decision-making power for your assets after death. You decide:
- Personal representative (i.e. an executor): who you want to distribute our assets and personal property.
- Trustee(s): if you establish trusts through your will, you decide who will administer them.
- Guardians for your minor children
- Beneficiaries of your estate: you can continue to provide for your family, friends, and charities you love.
If you die without a will, all of this will be decided by the probate court. Every state has its own rules and preset formulas for determining who makes decisions about your family and your assets. Total strangers may end up handling your estate. Charities you loved and supported during your lifetime are guaranteed to receive nothing. Your will and the choices you designate in it give your executor the direction to distribute your assets as you wished. There is also a delay before assets are distributed through probate, as well as costs for the process: for example, court fees, executor’s fees, and attorney fees.
There are several ways to establish a will. You can work with a lawyer or an estate planner, and there are many legal software and websites you can use, too. Whatever method you choose, you’ll need to have some personal and financial information ready. While the exact information will vary depending on your individual situation, here are some items you’ll likely need:
- Your full legal name
- Your legal address
- Your date and place of birth
- Your citizenship status
- Dates and documents of current marriage, previous marriages, divorce, or death certificates, prenuptial agreements
- Legal names and birthdates of children
- Current address of children if they no longer live with you
- Names and addresses of those you’ve chosen as executor, guardian, and/or trustee
- Names and addresses of persons or institutions you wish to name as a beneficiary
- Detailed personal net worth statement, including information on all mortgages and debts
We believe that everyone should have a will. No matter where you are in your life’s journey, we believe it’s important to plan ahead, be prepared, and build a legacy. A will can be a major part of that. If you have any questions about wills, let us know!