Do I Need a Will? What does a will really do?
If you pass away and have a will:
Your property and assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries according to your wishes.
If you pass away and don’t have a will:
State law governs who gets your property and assets—this is called “dying intestate.”
Usually, your spouse and/or children will take priority and inherit your possessions, but that’s not necessarily true.
If you don’t have a spouse or children, then the process becomes far more complicated.
When do you need a will?
There’s a lot of debate among professionals about
who needs a will. While you can make the argument
that it’s always better to have a will, here are the
specific categories of people who need (and who
don’t need) a will.
Are you married? You need a will.
If you are married, then you need a will because your spouse is someone who is so closely tied to you that it’s important for you to put in writing whether she or he gets your assets upon your death.
Traditionally, your spouse would likely inherit your assets even if you die without a will, but you shouldn’t leave that up to chance. Additionally, if you want anyone other than your spouse to receive any of your assets, you would need to include that in your will because that isn’t the default.
Do you have children? You need a will.
If you have children, you need a will because your children are likely to inherit your things if you die intestate, after your spouse, but not necessarily. This means that if you want your children to inherit after your spouse, then you need to put that in writing so there is no room for error or interpretation by the courts. Additionally, if you don’t want one of (or all of) your children to inherit, then that needs to be in writing.
Whether you want your children to inherit your assets or not, it is likely that you have feelings about it one way or another. For this reason, it’s very important that you have a will in place so that the decision is being made by you, not the state.
Another reason why a will is important if you have children is because you name an executor of your estate and a guardian of your children. The executor is responsible for distributing your assets, and the guardian is responsible for raising your children. Who you name as executor and as guardian is critically important to how your children inherit and how they are raised.
You can (and should) change your will over time. For example, if you have two kids, create a will, then ten years later, have another kid, you will need to update your will to include your third child.
Do you have a positive net worth? You need a will.
If you are single and don’t have kids, but you do have a positive net worth, then you should have a will. Specifically, if you have assets that exceed more than $100,000, you are really going to want to have a living trust which goes into effect right after it’s signed.
When you have assets that need to be distributed when you die, it’s almost always easier on your family to have a will or a trust in place.
Around death, clarity is the operative word.
Are you young, broke, single, and don’t have kids? You don’t need a will (yet).
Your will directs the distribution of assets and if you don’t have many assets to distribute then you may be okay without a will. For example, my friend Susan is single, doesn’t have kids, is 28 years old, and has a lot of student loan debt. Susan really doesn’t need a will yet because she doesn’t have dependents and she doesn’t have assets.
If you get married, have kids, or come into assets (money or property), then it’s a good idea to get a will.
How to set up a will
Because writing a will may likely raise a lot of questions, I recommend reaching out to estate planners who can help answer all of your questions. Because when it comes to estate planning and deciding the things you have to decide, you’ll want to get advice from a knowledgeable team.
At the end of the day, making a mistake isn’t worth it. This way you have full control around these important decisions while you are alive and can learn about all the differences between, for example, wills (which go into effect when you die) and living trusts (which go into effect immediately after they’re signed).
A will is a legal document that dictates the distribution of assets when you die. If you die without a will, state law governs.
You definitely need a will if you are married, have kids, or have a lot of assets.
You may not need a will if you are young, single, childless, and broke.
When it is time for you to get a will in place, make sure you hire an attorney to draft it for you. A will can help your family avoid conflict when you die, and it is not something you should draft yourself.