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6 Essential Questions About Wills, Answered

Estate Planning

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7 min Category: Estate Planning

Benjamin Franklin once famously said that nothing in this world is said to be certain, except death and taxes. Still, many of us don’t like to think about it dying. Even so, estate planning is important to protecting the future for your family. An important part of this is making a Will. If you don’t currently have a Will, you may be imagining that you don’t need it until you’re older or have more assets. However, there are plenty of factors that you might not be considering that you should address with a Will. 

1. What is a Will?

A Last Will and Testament, or simply a Will, is a legal document that details your wishes for your assets after your death. A Will can also be used to select guardians for children or pets. The CDC Foundation lists four components of a Will that are important to know: 

  • Testator: the person who creates a Will
  • Executor: the person that the testator appoints to carry out their Will
  • Beneficiaries: the people or organizations who are left bequests (cash gifts or other assets) in the Will by the testator
  • Probate: is the judicial process whereby a Will is “proved” in a court of law and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased, or whereby the estate is settled according to the laws of intestacy in the state of residence of the deceased at the time of death in the absence of a legal Will.

2. Why Do People Make a Will?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the current life expectancy in the U.S. is 76.4 years – 73.5 years for men and 79.3 years for women. Even so, it is important to have a plan for the unexpected. A Will is a key component of your estate planning and ensures that your loved ones are looked after in the event of your death. Here are some practical factors that a Will can address: 

1. Property

When most people think of what goes into a Will, they’re likely thinking of what things to include and to divvy up to whom. Your Will can decide what you’d like to be done with anything important or valuable property. Who should receive your priceless strand of pearls? Who should get the rare artwork in the den? Do you want to donate your items to charity? These are all questions that can be addressed in a Will. 

2. Family Dynamics

A Will serves as your final directive, guiding your family through the distribution of assets and minimizing potential conflicts. Perhaps there is an immediate family member who you don’t want to leave any assets to, for whatever reason. Without clear direction from you, they could have a reason to petition and receive assets you didn’t intend for them to.  

Additionally, clear instruction can reduce the emotional load of your death on loved ones. With so much to navigate and plan, knowing exactly what your wishes are is one less thing for your family to figure out. 

3. Guardianship Wishes

If you have surviving minor children or for those who have dependents, a Will is essential for nominating guardians in the event of your passing. The testator can nominate who should be named as the legal guardian, and this is heavily considered by the courts.  

Without a Will, you risk leaving this decision up to the law and courts of your state of residence.

4. Your Pet(s)

Your Will can extend to the care of your beloved pets. Pets are legally considered property, so leaving them money or assets directly is not feasible. However, you can make plans to ensure their care. There are multiple options for including your pet in your Will, from informal arrangements that don’t require formal legalities, to more complex trusts. 

By appointing a caregiver in your Will, you can guarantee that your pets receive the love and attention they deserve. If you don’t include your pet in your Will, they will go to your residuary beneficiary

Young woman with dog

3. What Happens If I Don’t Have a Will?

If someone dies without a Will, they are said to have “died intestate.” When this happens, their assets are distributed by a probate court, according to their state’s intestacy laws. These laws will determine who will inherit what, which prioritize close family members. 

Dying intestate means that your assets could wind up in the hands of unintended recipients. It’s also added stress and time for your loved ones, during an already difficult period. 

4. When Should I Make a Will?

Now that we’ve covered the reasons that you should make a Will (and the drawbacks of not making one), you may be asking, well when do I need a Will? Regina Kiperman, a managing attorney at an estate planning law firm in New York, says that the “right time to make a Will is based on life events, not age.” She describes three categories that would qualify someone to create a Will: 

1. Acquiring Assets

If you have a positive net worth or valuable objects, you should consider making a Will to ensure that your property is passed down in the way you want it, in the event of your untimely death. 

2. Legal Attachment to Someone Else

This can refer to a number of scenarios including getting married, having a child, getting remarried, or welcoming grandchildren or other additions to the family. This is an important point for married couples in their 30s and 40s to consider. Many young couples don’t believe that a Will is necessary at their age or haven’t made the time to get around to it. However, it’s important to plan for the unexpected and safeguard your family’s future. 

3. Risk of Death

Any time your risk of death increases, you should consider, or reconsider, your estate planning. This could be due to a new health diagnosis, remote travel, or other factors. 

For many adults, one or more of these categories will apply to them by their mid- to late-twenties. It could also be helpful to make a Will as soon as you’re of a legal age to get ahead in your estate planning.

Man Carrying Woman Over Threshold Of Doorway In New Home

5. Who Doesn’t Need a Will?

While it’s never too early to start your estate planning, if you are single, childless, and have debt, such as student loan debt, you might not need a Will just yet.  However, your financial journey will eventually call for more robust estate planning. Start familiarizing yourself with the various parts of estate planning now, so you’re better equipped to protect your tomorrow when the time comes. 

Explore Estate Planning Resources from WAEPA >

6. How Do I Make a Will?

Making a Will doesn’t need to be complicated. Under the Sixth Amendment, you are not legally required to hire a lawyer to create one. There are, however, competing thoughts around whether having a professional or doing-it-yourself is best. If you’d like to go the DIY route, you can find online software to help you with this process. There is necessary language to include, specified by your state’s requirements. You’ll also need to select a Will executor, and then print and sign your Will in front of third-party witnesses.  If your estate plan situation is more complicated, you should consider consulting an estate planning attorney. Hiring a professional, regardless of your situation, can help ensure your Will adheres to all legal standards.  

Having an estate plan in place is an important piece of securing the future for your loved ones. Taking the time to outline your wishes and distribute your assets can help provide clarity once you’ve passed away. Creating and maintaining an updated Will is a tangible way to provide peace of mind for yourself and your family. 


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