Do you have a will?

If you’re like most Americans, you don’t have a will. According to a recent Gallup survey, just 46% of U.S. adults have wills. Even those most likely to have wills, such as older Americans and high earners, are underprotected. Just 76% of those aged 65 and older have wills, and just 61% of people are making more than $100,000/year.

Most who don’t have wills and other important estate planning documents mistakenly believe that they don’t need them.

Who Needs a Will?

We’d all like to believe that we’ll live long, healthy lives and not need a will until we’re much older than we are today–no matter what our current age. But, the truth is that none of us know what the future holds. It’s better to be prepared and not need that will for many years than to risk leaving your family with unnecessary conflict and complications.

Similarly, people who don’t think they need a will often say “I don’t own anything.” But, that’s almost never true. Even if you don’t have significant assets, you almost certainly own something. Some common assets most people who think they don’t own anything have include vehicles, bank accounts, and personal property.
Some of the most common reasons people don’t make wills include:
●  Believing there is plenty of time for estate planning later
●  Thinking they don’t have enough property to make it worthwhile
●  Having an exaggerated expectation of the time and money involved in making a will
●  Not knowing how to get started
Even if your possessions aren’t valuable, someone will have to take charge and distribute them. And, even if your personal property doesn’t have much monetary value, they may still be important to your surviving family members–especially items like family photos or items passed down from parents and grandparents, which most people don’t think about when considering whether they need a will.

Generally, anyone over the age of 18 should have at least a simple will.

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What Happens if You Don’t Have a Will?

If you die without a will or other legal arrangements for your property, your state’s law of intestate succession will determine who inherits your property. The probate court will appoint someone to manage your estate, and your property will be distributed based on a formula set forth in the statute.

Many people assume that distribution under intestate succession will be fine, since assets will go to those closest to you. But, the way your property will be distributed may not be what you expect–or what you want.

The formula varies from state to state, and may contain some unexpected twists. For example, many people assume that when a married person passes away, all property will pass to the surviving spouse. But, that’s not always true. Others assume that children of the deceased will receive a portion of the estate. But, that’s not always true.
The only way to ensure that your property is distributed as you wish after you pass away is to draft a will that makes your intentions clear.

What Else Goes In Your Will?

The key purpose of a will is to direct who inherits your property. But, your will contains other important instructions. For example:
You nominate the person you want to serve as your executor (or personal representative) in your will–if you haven’t appointed someone, the court will have to choose who administers your estate
You have the opportunity to leave specific items to specific people–intestate succession directs percentages only, and leaves it to the executor to divide up property accordingly
You have the opportunity to choose which property will be sold to pay debts, taxes, and costs of administration if that’s necessary
You owe it to yourself and your family to learn more about how a will, living trust, or combination of the two will protect your family after your passing.

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