May 4, 2020

Edited 05/28/20

What is a Will and Why You Need to Write One Now

Protect your future with a will. It’s more valuable than you think to have one in place.

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With the recent pandemic, more often than not, many families are unable to carry out their loved one’s wishes because their loved one did not write a will. According to Caring.com’s 2020 Estate Planning and Wills Study, they stated that nearly 70% of Americans do not have a will in place.

“The topic of estate planning can be a difficult one, but not as difficult as the situation your loved ones may be left in if you don’t have an estate plan in place,” says Patrick Hicks, Head of Legal at Trust & Will from Caring.com 2020 study. Separately, if the loved one’s will has not been updated, their legacy may not consider any new milestones or life changes.

Without a will, the intestate laws where you live will determine how your estate is handled after your death. If you want to have a say in how your assets are distributed after your death, it’s important to have a will that clearly outlines your wishes.

In today’s new norms, online platforms are increasingly making “in-person” services an alternative option when accessibility and affordability factor in. Thus, you can easily write a will—that’s legally binding—in the comfort of your own home and have a completed copy for you to immediately download.

What Does an Estate Plan Include?

A will is just the start of protecting you, but there are supporting health care documents part of your boarder estate plan. Here are four essential parts of an estate plan:

  1. Last Will & Testament: This documents your final wishes for your possessions, dependents, and arrangements.
  2. HIPPA Authorization:  This authorizes trusted individuals to receive your protected health information for specified purposes. If a family member is helping you navigate a healthcare crisis, it can be helpful to have this in place ahead of time.
  3. Living Will: This specifies your preferences for healthcare and medical treatment to be used as guidance if you are ever unable to make decisions. It ensures that family members and doctors are able to follow your wishes.
  4. Power of Attorney:  This assigns someone (an agent) to manage your personal and business responsibilities if you are away or incapacitated.

Writing a Will: How to Do It and What to Include 

You have two choices when it comes to writing a will. You can either do it online or you can hire a lawyer to help you. Today, when it’s hard to leave the house, online platforms like Trust & Will can quickly help you put your plan in place. Regardless of whether you choose to create one yourself with an online platform or work with an attorney in-person, here’s the information you should include in your will.

  • Guardianship of minor children. If you have kids under 18, this includes if you are responsible for raising grandchildren, be sure to appoint a guardian. The guardian will be responsible for them if you and/or your spouse die before they’re adults. If you don’t, the court will decide after your death.
  • Distribution of assets. If you have assets that don’t already have a named beneficiary, include instructions for how you’d like them distributed. This is particularly important if you want to leave part of your estate to charity or a non-family member because the intestate laws in most states typically divide your assets among family members only. Assets with named beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies, 401(k), or 403(b) accounts don’t need to be included in your will. They’ll automatically be transferred to the beneficiary upon your death.
  • Pets. Make arrangements for the care of your pets, if you have any. 
  • Executor. Name an executor, who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after your death. Choose someone you trust and be sure to speak with them before you name them executor of your will. If you don’t choose someone, the court will appoint an executor after your death.

When you’re finished writing your will, keep it somewhere secure and accessible such as storing a copy in an online vault in addition to a fireproof safe in your home. Let the executor know where it is so they can follow your instructions after your death.

When to Write a Will and How to Discuss it With Loved Ones

You might have written your will when your kids were younger but now that you are close to or embarking on retirement your goals may have changed. If you don’t have a will already, you may not want the courts to decide how your assets will be distributed after your death. Therefore, writing a will is essential. But discussing it with your loved ones can be difficult. After all, no one wants to think about what life will be like when you’re gone. Here are a few tips to help make the conversation a little easier.

  • Set aside time to talk before there’s a crisis, when emotions are not running high.
  • Decide whether you want to speak with your family members together or separately.
  • Discuss everything outlined in your will, so there are no surprises later. Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Make sure everyone knows who the executor is. If you want people other than the executor to get copies of your will after your death, let them know where you’re keeping the copies.

While this isn’t an easy topic to discuss, taking time to get your affairs in order and discussing your plans with those closest to you can help prevent surprises, misunderstandings and conflict after your death.

When and How to Update Your Will

Writing a will isn’t something you should do once and forget about. It should be reviewed and updated after certain milestones, including: 

  • Divorce
  • Marriage
  • Birth of a child
  • Death of a spouse
  • When you retire
  • When you receive an inheritance or make a large purchase

If you haven’t experienced any major life changes, it’s still a good idea to review your will every few years to make sure it still accurately reflects your wishes.

Types of Wills

There are different types of wills, and the likelihood they’ll stand up in court if there’s a dispute after your death depends on the type you have. 

  • Testamentary will.  When you think about writing a will, this is probably what you think of. A testamentary will exists in writing, is signed by you, and is witnessed. It’s the type that’s most likely to hold up in court.
  • Holographic. Like a testamentary will, a holographic will is also written, but it’s not witnessed. It’s also not recognized in all states and may be difficult to enforce in court. 
  • Oral. There’s no written record with an oral will. Instead, you verbally tell witnesses how you’d like your affairs to be handled after your death. This type of will isn’t widely recognized by legal standards.
  • Living will. This document establishes the type of medical care you want to receive if you become ill or are injured and can’t make decisions for yourself. It’s meant to be used in conjunction with a testamentary will, not as a replacement for one.

What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Living Trust?

A will is a useful estate planning tool that establishes how you want your assets distributed and appoints guardianship of minor children and pets after your death. But after you die, your will becomes public record and must go through probate, which is a process where the court authenticates it and gives the executor permission to move forward with the instructions outlined in the will.

A living trust allows you to distribute assets to your beneficiaries without having to go through probate, which can save time. It also doesn’t become public, which allows the distribution of your assets to remain private. A trust isn’t a substitute for a will, but it can help simplify the division of assets.

Estate Taxes After Death

The executor of your will typically be responsible for preparing and filing a personal income tax return for the final year of your life. In addition, as of 2020, if your estate is worth $11,580,000 or more, a federal estate tax return must be filed. And depending on where you live, a state inheritance or estate tax may also need to be paid after your death.

Writing a will gives you the power to ensure your wishes about some of the most important aspects of your life are honored after your death. Don’t let fear of the inevitable stop you from creating one. 

Now is the time to consider how your plan to leave your legacy, easily and affordably. We’ve partnered with Trust & Will to help you secure your future estate and protect your legacy. Get 10% off when you create a will or a trust.