For most people, writing a will is a low priority. It requires us to think about two of the most uncomfortable subjects known to human kind, finances and our own mortality. However, most of us who have a will recognize that it is not planning for death, but rather for those we leave behind. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the people and charities you cared for in life will be secure at your passing.
For most of us, it is a process to write a will. Have you ever heard these comments as someone gears up to write a will?
- “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Translation: “That brochure on bequests from the non-profit was pretty interesting. Maybe I should think about writing a will myself.”
- “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
Translation: “There’s a grandchild on the way; I’ve never told the kids how I want them to divide up my books and coin collection, and they won’t know *what* to do with that limited-partnership I bought into; my old friend just told me that he’s gotten too sick to be able to oversee my estate. I really ought to get that will written…”
- “That was a wake-up call!”
Translation: “Look at the fights and financial worries Tom’s family is going through because he died without a will. That’s not going to happen to my family!”
If you don’t have a will yet, read on…
It’s Either Your Will, or Your State’s Rules
A will is your opportunity to help the people and organizations that mean the most to you; to sort out your investments, real estate and other property; to save taxes for your heirs. If you have minor children, it is the document where you decide who will care for them. Your will is the most important opportunity you’ll get in your life to tell the world what you want and how you want it done.
On the other hand, if you die without a will, your property will be taxed and distributed according to the rules and formulas of your state’s “intestacy” law. Of course, under that law no provision can be made to give extra assistance to a family member who needs it; to pass your Civil War collection on to the friend who shared your interests; or to make a gift to your favorite charity. The rules are the rules:
- Your Spouse: The state will pay your surviving spouse a fixed percentage of your estate. Want to provide more for him or her? Or less? Sorry, without a will you won’t be able to do so.
- Your Young Children: If you have minor children, you want to be able to choose the individuals who will serve as their guardians should your death be untimely. But if you haven’t identified your choice in a will, the state will make that decision for you. In addition, without a will your minor children will likely be entitled to their share of your estate as soon as they turn 18, regardless of their ability to manage money. A simple trust attached to your will could let you control how much your kids will get, and when they’ll get it.
- Your Grown Children: How many families do you know where all the adult children are doing exactly the same in terms of finances and health? More likely, they have a child with special needs or a child who isn’t doing as well financially as the other siblings. If you die without a will, your children will each receive a portion of your estate, divided equally among them. Want to provide extra assistance for a child who’s going to need it? Or, want to give less to a child whom you helped financially during your lifetime? Sorry, the state won’t make these distinctions.
- Your Grandchildren and Stepchildren: Many grandparents want to make estate gifts directly to their grandchildren. Without a will, you won’t be able to do that. And, unless you’ve legally adopted your stepchildren, they would also be excluded from the state’s distribution of your assets – an invitation to resentment and hard feelings.
- Your Personal Representative: A personal representative (also called an executor in some states) is the trusted individual or institution you’ve chosen to administer and distribute your estate. Your personal representative knows your family circumstances and financial goals, and will work hard to get assets to your family as quickly, and with as little tax burden, as possible. But if you don’t have a will, the court will name an administrator for your estate, one who likely will have no incentive to save taxes or speed up distributions.
- Your Favorite Charities: You’ve made contributions to certain charities over the years, are committed to the work they do and feel that you have a stake in their future. Without a will, your support of those charities ends when you die. The state makes no provision for charitable gifts from your estate.
There’s still time to make sure that your wishes will be taken into account after you’ve died. Begin to make your plans today: Who will get what? Does anyone need extra, ongoing care? Would a trust for young children or grandchildren be prudent? Next, consult an attorney and get the job done. You’ll experience real peace of mind when your will is complete.
Already have a will?
Now is a good time to review it. Tax laws change, and so do family circumstances — births, deaths, divorces, moves to another state, even family squabbles.
Take the time to make sure that your will still works the way you want it to.
When you write or re-write your will, please include a gift to Heart to Heart International. You’ll be building our future financial strength and helping to ensure that we’ll keep on doing the work that you value for generations to come – with a gift that costs you nothing during your lifetime.
We’ll be happy to provide more information about wills in general, and bequests to us in particular. We’re here to help.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 913-764-5200