Do you have a Will? That is, do you have a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and other important considerations like the legal care of your minor children or other dependents upon your passing? Between one-half and two-thirds of adults don't have a Will.
But do you need one? The answer is a resounding YES if you answer yes to any of the questions below:
1. Do you care who gets your property if you die?
2. Do you care who gets your money if you die?
3. Do you care who is appointed guardian of your minor children if you die?
4. Do you care if your estate is to pay taxes when you die?
Who Needs A Will?
Wills are not just for the rich and wealthy. Regardless of how much or how little money you have, a Will ensures that whatever personal belongings and assets you do have will go to family or the beneficiaries you designate. If you own a business, a Will can help ensure smooth legal transition of those assets.
Beyond your property and personal belongings, if you have minor children, a Will is a must. A Will ensures that you get to choose your children's legal guardian should you pass before your children are of legal adult age.
Through a Will, you can also name what is known as an Executor, or the person with whom you trust to have the authority to ensure that your wishes are carried out and to ensure that all of your affairs are in order from paying off bills to cancelling credit cards.
Without a Will, a court makes these decisions on your behalf, among others, through a lengthy and often stressful process called Probate. Few people plan to die in the near future, but if you die suddenly without a Will, you will inadvertently subject your family and loved ones to unnecessary confusion and anxiety at what is already a difficult time.
There are also other benefits to having a Will, including tax benefits by helping to avoid Death/Estate taxes.
How Do You Get Started?
At a minimum, a Will at any stage in your life should do the following: appoint a Guardian if you have minor children, appoint an Executor to administer your Will when you die, and spell out specifically how you want your property distributed.
The first step in deciding how you want your property distributed is gathering information. You'll need the at least the following for anyone named is your will (such as children, spouse, proposed guardians, executor, and other beneficiaries):
- Relationship to you
You will also need to keep some record of amounts of all debts, including mortgages, car loans, student loans, business loans, and credit card accounts.
A list of assets, including detailed information about the following:
- Real estate – Land and Property
- Savings (bank accounts, building societies, CD’s, money markets)
- Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETF's)
- Pension/retirement/MPF accounts
- Life insurance policies and annuities
- Ownership interest in a business
- Cars, boats, planes and other vehicles
- Other personal property – digital property for example.
Of course, you should also keep copies of existing Wills, Trusts, divorce decrees, prenuptial agreements and any other legal documents that might affect your Will. If you decide to create your Will yourself you can sit down in front of your computer with all of the above information and in a few hours produce a Will that is legal. Be sure to follow the software's instructions on having your Will signed and witnessed.
If you feel more comfortable having an expert (lawyer, Will-writer) do it, you'll need to be prepared to take the above and perhaps other information with you to your appointment.
As life changes, it is also best to revisit your Will periodically or upon certain major life events to ensure that your Will still reflects your desires.
Last, but not least, the best of Wills won't be any good if nobody knows how to find it!
Make sure your family members and your Executor know where your Will is kept.
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