It’s not fun to think about our inevitable deaths. But one thing is certain: it will happen one day. And even though it’s probably not something you want to discuss or think about until you have to, you should. Estate planning often comes up when there's a spouse or children in the picture, or when health and longevity comes into question. In these cases, having a will is an obvious must. However, even if you’re healthy, single, and have no children, a clear, here are three reasons why having a will is important for anyone who has property.
You control your legacy
If you die without a will (intestacy), the state assigns an administrator to your estate and decides who gets your assets and the share they receive based on a set of rules that differ in each state. The state doesn't care about your personal relationships with your family, only the legal familial relationship. If you don't have living parents, siblings, a spouse, or children, your assets still go to someone - the step-sibling you haven't talked to in years, a distant cousin, the great uncle you heard about but never met, or forfeited to the state if no relatives can be found. Having a will provides clarity to those you care about by allowing you to leave your assets to whoever you want rather than being forced to follow your state’s intestacy laws (to an extent – in community property states like California, community property rules take precedent if there’s a conflict with your will).
Having a will reduces conflicts and confusion over your estate
A will reduces the potential for conflicts regarding your estate. Money can make people do crazy things, and having a will won’t eliminate the risk of potential heirs contesting their inheritance (or lack thereof). However, the more airtight you make your estate plan, the less likely it will be for a disgruntled heir to stir up trouble and make life more difficult for your other heirs. A knowledgeable estate attorney will be able to draft your will in a way that leaves no question to your intentions, which is critical since you won’t be around to explain your wishes firsthand.
Anything can happen
Your health and safety is not guaranteed. While we all hope to live long, fulfilling lives, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone will be able to do so. Things happen, no matter how careful or seemingly healthy you are. Being prepared avoids being forced to create holographic (hand-written) and deathbed wills, which are easily contested and can result in heirs fighting tooth and nail over your estate, or worse, never being able to execute a will at all. At the very least, proactively executing a well-thought-out will can reduce the burden on your grieving family.
Your will is a critical piece of your estate plan, but not all property will be subject to your will. If you’re married in a community property state, half of community property automatically goes to your spouse. Jointly held accounts with survivorship, accounts and life insurance with beneficiaries other than your estate, and accounts in a living trust are distributed according to those directions. Additionally, a will won’t help if you find yourself incapacitated and unable to make medical or financial decisions for yourself. Trusts, medical and financial powers of attorney, beneficiary checklists, and other estate planning tools are useful in those situations and are important to consider as well. Get in touch with your estate attorney and financial advisor for help securing your legacy.