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Britt Erica Tunick is an award winning financial journalist who has spent the past 17 years writing about virtually every aspect of finance.

The Importance of Writing a Will

The Importance of Writing a Will

By Britt Erica Tunick

Much in the way that death and taxes are certainties, so too is the reality that if you have any sort of net worth or assets, you should have a will. And if you don’t yet have a will, now is the time to write one, particularly if you are married or have children.

Thinking about your death, and outlining the logistics that will follow, is far from pleasant, but it is a necessity, particularly if you have dependents or loved ones who rely on you for their day-to-day needs. Having a will in place not only ensures that your assets and property will go to the people you desire, it also helps the transfer of those assets to occur in a more timely fashion. If you pass away without a will in place, the intestacy laws of the state where you reside, or where real property is located, will be used to determine what will become of your assets and belongings and who will ultimately inherit them—a process that can often be lengthy and unpredictable.

Following are a few things to keep in mind when putting together your will:

  • While hiring an attorney to put together your will is a good idea if you have significant assets, or own real property, it is not always a necessity. You can write your own will, and in many states it doesn’t even need to be notarized to be legal (just be sure to check the rules of the state where you reside).
  • If you choose to write your own will, there are online templates available that you can use or which can serve as a jumping-off point, many of which are even free.
  • When an individual who passes away is married at the time of their death and does not have a will in place, in most states their assets will automatically transfer to their spouse or children, or the next of kin. Since the laws regarding same-sex couples vary among states, this is not a given in many states, making it particularly important to put a will in place.
  • A will is not only necessary for designating the transfer of assets, but is a necessity for parents as a way of indicating who should become the guardian of a child/children if both parents die before the children reach the age of 18. It is equally important to detail any wishes for how the assets passed to children should be used, particularly if the assets will be needed to help support them.
  • It is important to name an executor for your will. This is the individual who will be responsible for paying off any taxes and outstanding debts at the time of your death and ensuring that your assets are transferred to the individuals you have indicated should receive them.
  • The executor of a will is compensated for their services. While you can place a provision in your will indicating how much an executor should receive for helping to execute your wishes, they are legally entitled to an executor fee even if you do not designate an amount. The amount that an executor is entitled to varies among states and is typically determined through a formula that is a percentage of a portion of the overall estate.
  • Wills are not limited to passing on assets such as cash and property, but should also be used to designate what should become of items of sentimental value as well. This can be particularly important if that sentimental value extends to other family members who could wind up fighting over such items if you do not clearly spell out who should receive them.
  • Your final wishes for what should become of your remains, particularly if you would like to donate organs or be cremated, and even specific arrangements you would like for a funeral, can also be included in your will. While such details may not seem important, spelling out these details before your death will makes things easier for your loved ones after you are gone.
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