When you’re so busy living, who wants to think about dying? While it is a topic most people would rather avoid, planning what happens to your hard-earned assets, minor children, and pets in the event of your death is the responsible thing to do. However, according to Caring.com’s most recent annual estate planning and wills study, only 32% of individuals have a will.
What are the common objections to establishing a will?
- I don’t earn enough money.
- My spouse can handle everything.
- I don’t have children or a spouse.
- I have life insurance.
While the distribution of assets may be more complicated for a wealthy person, even people of moderate means should have a will. If you own a home, have a retirement account, have minor children, or own a business, you need a will. Besides, if you don’t make your wishes known via a will, your assets could be held hostage for up to 24 months by the legal system’s overwhelmed probate process and end up in the hands of individuals you did not intend.
It is true that your assets and the custody of your children would likely pass to your surviving spouse. However, in the case of property, it may depend on whether it is owned jointly and when it was acquired. If the property isn’t jointly owned, then it’s value or ownership could be distributed or divided among your surviving relatives including parents, siblings, or even more distant members of your family tree. With a will you decide who should benefit from your years of hard work and asset accumulation. Further, a will protects the future upbringing of your minor children by allowing you to designate a guardian should your spouse be unable or unavailable to care for your children. In fact, you and your spouse can work together to establish a joint or mutual will that addresses the handling of your collective estate and the guardianship of your minor children should either one or both of you pass away.
Even if you don’t have a spouse or children, you still should consider establishing a will. If you don’t, and the state cannot find any next of kin, your property will be sold, and any account proceeds would become the property of the state. With a will but no spouse, heirs, or surviving relatives, you could still designate a charity or alma mater as a beneficiary to your estate.
Finally, while life insurance is an important aspect of any estate plan, it’s generally not enough. What life insurance policies don’t address is the handling of property and other assets you have accumulated over your lifetime. Furthermore, there may be little left of the life insurance proceeds if they had to be used to cover funeral and medical expenses as well as estate taxes.
It isn’t the easiest topic to address, but establishing a will makes it clear what should happen to your assets and your minor children upon your death. It’s the responsible thing to do for the continuation of all that you have built.