No matter your age or how many assets you have, you should consider writing a will. A will is a legal document that designates who will receive what you own in the even of your death. Wills can designate who will receive almost anything that you have, including:
- Assets such as clothing, jewelry, furniture, cars, and other items of sentimental or monetary value.
- Real Property which includes any land and homes that you own.
- Money including checking, savings, and investment accounts.
- Guardianship of minor children or incapacitated adults in your care. Wills can even designate who will receive your pets.
You may think that you do not need a will if you are young and healthy, however, unexpected events can happen and a will, or other estate planning device, is necessary to make sure your belongings are properly distributed. Without a will, state law will determine who receives your belongings. Usually, this will mean that your property will go to your spouse. If you are not married, or if your spouse also dies, a more complicated distribution will occur. If you have preferences about who will take ownership of your things or who will become guardian of any children you have, it is important to consider drafting a will.
When drafting a will, there is another process you must consider: probate. Probate is the court process through which a judge will approve your will as valid and approve distribution of what you own. Unfortunately, probate is almost unavoidable unless you have a very small estate or if you use more creative estate planning methods. For most people, however, a will is the simplest, cheapest, and best way to distribute your assets which means that you will need to prepare for probate.
Probate can take time and can be expensive. Your estate will incur legal fees and slow speed of the court can result in significant time passing between the event of your death and the time your assets are distributed. If your income is important for taking care of your family, the time your will spends in probate may put your loved ones in financial hardship. Your family will also likely incur your funeral expenses which will likely need to be paid before probate is complete.
So, what can you do? To make the probate process as efficient as possible, you will need to carefully draft your will. Follow all of the rules of your state regarding whether the will must be witnessed and notarized. Make sure that your will is clearly drafted so that there is no question about what should go to who. For example, if you are leaving behind your car, specify the make model and vehicle identification number (VIN) in your will. Tell your family about your will. Tell them where it is located and consider talking to them about who will assume ownership of big items like your house or guardianship of your children. One of the best ways to ensure that your will is fool-proof and will stand up to the scrutiny of the court is to consult an attorney.
Remember that taking care now to draft a will is an important gift that you can give your loved ones in the event of your death. It can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but preparing your will now, and considering probate procedures in your state, will help your family immeasurably in the event of your death. If you have any more questions in regards to drafting a will, contact an experienced living will lawyer O’Fallon MO turns to for help.
Thank you to the Legacy Law Center for providing their expertise and insight on wills and probates.