Do You Need a Will? Considerations For All Adults

Preparing a will is one of the most beneficial things you can do to keep your affairs in order and ensure that your assets are handled the way you desire. However, a recent study found that 67% of Americans have no estate plan intact.

As a general rule, any adult should have a will. This applies even if you don’t have significant estate assets. Without a will, the applicable state laws determine how a deceased person’s assets are distributed. This can result in significant family disputes, guardianship concerns, and greater implications regarding federal estate tax or other estate taxes.

Benefits of Having a Will

Your last will and testament represent the official legal document declaring who manages your estate after you die. It also lists who receives your assets, including your home, money, and other important possessions.

If you have minor children, your will also outlines their legal guardians. Furthermore, if you have pets, your will indicates who will take care of them. With that, discussing your will in advance can be reassuring to loved ones taking over your assets upon your death.

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

People who die without a valid will are deemed ‘interstate,’ meaning their estate is settled based on state laws. This means that your estate goes through a probate court process after your death.

Without an executor in place, a judge will assign an administrator to handle your assets. This may be someone you or your family members don’t know, and there is simply no way to guarantee that this individual makes decisions that honor your wishes.

Furthermore, the probate process is often lengthy, emotional, and time-consuming. Your surviving spouse or family members will likely have to manage tedious paperwork- and issues can certainly arise within these dynamics.

Probate is also a public process, meaning anyone can look into court files and learn about your personal property and estate. Navigating probate court is generally expensive, and lawyer fees, which typically run at an hourly rate, can become quite cost-prohibitive. This takes away money from beneficiary designations and can exacerbate family tension during a precarious time.

How Do You Make a Will?

Wills should be updated after every significant life change or reviewed annually. This is because life circumstances change, and you may want certain assets handled differently at different points in time.

If you have a complex estate, own a business, or are concerned about your children, it may be best to hire an estate attorney. Working with a professional can ensure that your documentation is appropriate and legally up-to-par. It may also mitigate the impacts of feeling overwhelmed or experiencing death anxiety.

However, you can also look for will templates online or make your own. With these options, you will need to check your state laws regarding witnesses and potential notarization to ensure your will’s validity.

Your will outlines all of the items and accounts you own. This includes:

  • physical assets like real estate and vehicles
  • financial accounts like bank accounts, savings accounts, and investment accounts
  • personal assets like sentimental jewelry or treasured items
  • charitable donations that you’d like to have set in your name upon your death

In most cases, when it comes to your retirement accounts or life insurance policies, you can designate your beneficiary directly through those companies either over the phone or online.

The executor of your will is responsible for carrying out your wishes and distributing property to your beneficiaries. Many people choose their spouse or an adult child, but you should always ensure this person is comfortable with the tasks before designating them. For this reason, some people opt to select an attorney or accountant (or some other non-relative) to avoid potentially burdening their families.

Wills need to be stored in a safe, secure place. Ideally, you should keep a paper copy in a safe and a digital copy available for access. It’s a good idea to save your estate planning documents with other legally binding forms, such as life insurance policy information, online password information, and property titles and deeds. Make sure your executor knows where these documents are located.

Therapy for End-of-Life Issues and Getting Your Affairs In Order

Preparing for the end of life often represents an interconnected emotional and legal process. Estate planners can offer professional advice to help ease the logistics, and therapy can help you manage the complex emotions that may arise during this time.

In my practice, I specialize in end-of-life concerns, including terminal illness, caregiving for aging family members, hospice, and death. If you or your loved one is experiencing one of these issues, I am here to offer support and guidance.

Confronting the end of life can feel daunting, but getting your affairs in order offers you peace of mind. It may also be one of the best gifts you can offer either your adult or dependent children.

If you’d like to discuss additional therapeutic support, I’d be happy to help. Please contact me today to schedule an initial consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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