10 reasons why you need a will

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Michael E. Lehr, Esq., author of Estate Planning: 10 reasons why you need a will

Michael E. Lehr, Esq.

What is the state of your financial health? Although about six in 10 Americans have a retirement account, only one in four have a will or living trust, according to Caring.com’s 2023 Wills and Estate Planning Study. Estate planning is an important piece of a financial plan, but it’s easy to procrastinate because of perceived discomfort and difficulty.

A will spells out what you want to happen to your money, property and personal items. It provides a clear game plan for your loved ones to follow. Estate planning also includes instructions for your own care should you become incapacitated. That means the creation of a living will and advance healthcare directive.

Certain life stages are a good time to create, review or update your will and estate plan. These include marriage, parenthood, divorce, death of a spouse, remarriage, retirement or relocation to another state.

Still not convinced? Here are 10 reasons why you need a will.

  1. Reduce stress for your loved ones.

Almost all estates must go to probate court to start the legal process overseeing distribution of assets. Without a will, the court must name an administrator to administer your estate. This can be time-consuming, expensive and even contentious for loved ones. When you have a will, you choose the person to handle your estate.

  1. Decide who will manage your estate.

When you write a will, you nominate an “executor,” the person who will oversee wrapping up all your affairs. Responsibilities may include everything from closing bank accounts to liquidating assets. If you don’t choose an executor in your will, the court will pick one for you, and it may not be the person you’d want.

  1. Be specific about who gets what.

Most people know a will lets them decide who will get their property. You can name people and organizations as beneficiaries for specific assets. You can also name beneficiaries for any property that you don’t list—the “residuary” of your estate. The executor oversees distributing assets.

  1. Choose who will care for your minor children.

If you’re a parent with children younger than age 18 who live at home or if you have an adult child who depends on you due to a permanent disability, you need a legal will. A will leaves a plan for your children’s care. Use your will to nominate a guardian for your minor children. The surviving parent will usually get sole legal custody if one parent dies. But if both parents pass, a guardian will be responsible for your children’s needs, including food, housing, healthcare, education and clothing. If you don’t nominate a guardian, a court will choose one. This could mean that someone you would not have chosen will raise your children.

When you create or update your will, you look after your loved ones and give them an easy map to follow. You help people and causes you care about. This gives many people peace-of-mind, making it one of the most important reasons to have a will.

  1. Provide a home for your pets.

The law considers pets to be property, so you can’t leave assets to your pet. But you can name a beneficiary for your pet. You can ask that person to act as a caretaker or guardian for your pet, and even leave funds to provide for your pet’s care.

  1. Leave instructions for your digital assets.

Your digital assets may include online accounts, such as Facebook, websites or email, and digital files or property such as photographs and videos. You can name a digital executor to manage these assets after you pass.

  1. Lower the potential for family disputes.

When you die without a will, your family will guess at your final wishes. They won’t always agree. This ambiguity can create friction and fights. Having a will eliminates guesswork.

  1. Support your favorite causes and leave a legacy.

Many people like you want to leave a positive impact on the world after they pass. A meaningful way to do this is to support the charities or causes you love most. When you write a will, you can preserve your legacy by leaving a part of your estate to a nonprofit organization such as Hospice of the Chesapeake.

  1. Provide funeral instructions.

Leaving funeral instructions with your will lessens the burden on your loved ones. While these instructions aren’t legally binding, they can give your executors and loved ones guidance on your wishes.

  1. Gain peace-of-mind.

When you create or update your will, you look after your loved ones and give them an easy map to follow. You help people and causes you care about. This gives many people peace-of-mind, making it one of the most important reasons to have a will.

One final note: Middle age is a good time to update your will to reflect family births, deaths, separations, or divorces. Review guardian, trustee and personal-representative appointments. Reevaluate the nature of specific gifts to people or groups. Be sure to recalculate how much life insurance you need.

Learn more about how to protect loved ones, organize everything in one place and save on taxes. https://hospicechesapeake.planmygift.org/

Editor’s note: Michael E. Lehr, Esq., is a longstanding member of the Hospice of the Chesapeake Planned Giving Advisory Council and Principal with Sims & Campbell, Estates & Trusts.

The information in this article is not intended as legal or tax advice. Please consult an attorney or tax advisor for your specific situation.


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