A will is the cornerstone of estate planning, and the long-held belief is that every adult should have one to responsibly manage their affairs. A will allows you to plan for every contingency, giving you control over what happens to everything you own after your death. Making a will also means you can make sure your elderly parents or minor children are taken care of.
Despite the obvious benefits, professionals are not in complete agreement about who needs a will. Some argue that a will is unnecessary for young, single adults who do not have children, or seniors without much in the way of assets. Others believe that having made beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, property deeds or retirement accounts is sufficient. However, it is always better to have a will than to not have one, and there are specific situations where it is essential for people to put a will in place for their own benefit – and that of their loved ones.
There are many reasons why a will is important. It allows you to determine how to distribute all of your assets after you die. You can leave items of value or importance to specific people, including non-family members; donate to favorite charities; and determine who will care for your pet and provide funds for them to do so. Many assets to be address in a will are digital in nature, such as passwords to social media website and for email address, and photos posted on social website.
Your will names an executor you trust to carry out your wishes. If you have minor children, only a will allows you to designate a guardian for those children if both parents pass away. In a will or a trust, you can also appoint someone to watch over assets for a disabled family member or someone who may not be able to manage those assets on their own.
If you die intestate (without a legal will), state law governs who gets your property and assets. This means that your closest relatives – spouse and children or parents if you are unmarried – will get everything without respect to your wishes. If you have minor children and do not have a will, the court will decide who should have guardianship.
A will is a must for people who are married, have children, and/or have a positive net worth.
· If you are married, it is important to put in writing whether your spouse gets your assets upon your death. Even if you think you would distribute your assets in the same way the state intestacy law would, a will allows you to plan for unexpected situations. For example, if you and your spouse die together, state law dictates your assets would go to your parents, who you may not wish to receive anything. If you want someone other than your spouse to receive any of your assets, you would need to include that in your will as well.
· If you have children, a will allows you to name a guardian and to put in writing whether or not you want the children to inherit after your spouse.
· If you are single and have assets that need to be distributed when you die, having a will or a trust in place is a necessity to control where they go. While beneficiary designations on life insurance policies or retirement accounts will ensure that the right people receive benefits or inherit the assets, only a will is going to designate who will get your house or car.
· The same is true for couples who avoid writing a will and simply put everything into joint names. Joint assets pass to the other owner automatically, but issues can arise when that spouse dies or a random asset that was not accounted for is discovered.
· Naming an executor and including appropriate language also avoids the need for an administrator or personal representative of your estate to post a bond before distributing assets.
If you need to create a new will or revise an existing will, it is best to work with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your options and make sure it is a valid document that meets your state’s requirements. Contact us with questions or concerns at 973.707.3322 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.