End of Life Planning

8/19/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

A will is a legal document ensuring your assets and wealth go to your surviving spouse and heirs after your death. If you have children, it could also designate who will care for them. An adequately prepared will clearly states your intentions for the future while preventing others from changing and replacing them with their desires. But if you die without a will, your assets could get disorderly quickly.

Do I really need a will?

Yes, you do! Everyone 18 and older should have a will, whatever the size of their estate. It’s essential to make your wishes known to ease some of the burdens on your loved ones. It’s one less decision they must make during an already painful time.

What happens if you die without a will?

After you die, the probate process begins whether you have a will or not. However, the process is much simpler if there is a will. In that case, the probate court judge merely confirms the will’s validity and authorizes the executor to carry out your final wishes.

On the other hand, if you die without a will (or die “intestate”), the judge will appoint an estate administrator to distribute your assets. Typically, the surviving spouse will be assigned the thankless job. But selecting a representative can get complicated, especially if they must consider ex-spouses, parents, kids, or that distant cousin who claims you promised something to him.

While the courts determine who will distribute your assets, they will be frozen, meaning nobody may touch them. And after the court names a representative, there is no guarantee that person will be the one you would have chosen.

If nobody agrees to handle your estate, the courts will name a public trustee, resulting in a total stranger distributing your assets consistent with the laws in your state. In general, everybody ends up unhappy.

Here are a few scenarios to consider if you die without a will:

  • You’re single without children: Your parents will probably inherit your entire estate. If you have any assets, they will be liquidated to pay off any debts. If one of your parents has already died, your assets will be divided among the surviving parent and any siblings, regardless of whether you got along with them or not.
  • You’re single with children: If you pass away without a will in place, the courts will decide on a guardian for your children. In many cases, a family member will get involved and care for your kids. However, that person might not have been your first choice or, worse yet, they may be the last person you would have chosen.
  • You’re married: Your estate will likely pass on to your spouse if you have joint ownership. If you have separate property, it could be split among your surviving spouse, children, siblings, and parents. And if you’re divorced and remarried with children from both marriages, things can get highly confusing in the absence of a will to sort things out.

These three examples should indicate how difficult things could be for your loved ones if you pass away without a will. But there is a relatively inexpensive and straightforward solution.

Related: Is Long-Term Care Insurance Worth It?

How do I get a will, and what should I include?

A common misconception is that you must hire a lawyer to write a will for it to be valid. Many people also believe that a will is far too complicated for them to write on their own. However, a simple will is not hard to create, provides enough coverage for most, and is easily affordable.

For it to be valid, you need to follow some legal requirements, including:

  • State that the document is your will and indicates your last wishes. This statement will let the court know you wanted the document to serve as your will. You could even include another notice voiding all previous wills you’ve written.
  • Name the people you want to inherit your property. These are your beneficiaries, and they can be family members, friends, or charitable organizations.
  • Choose someone you trust (your executor) to carry out the instructions in your will. 
  • If you have children or pets, name guardians to care for them.
  • Sign the will. Signing is an essential step since it won’t be valid without your signature.
  • Line up at least two witnesses to also sign your will. By signing, the witnesses vow that you wrote your will and you were of sound mind and not under pressure from anyone else.

If you have few assets, no children, or are planning on leaving everything to one individual, then you are probably safe with a do-it-yourself will. However, if you’ve got minor children, a large estate, or complicated requests, you might be better off with an attorney.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff