The prospect of writing a will can often bring up uncomfortable feelings. Yet, drafting a will is one of the most important components of estate planning. Having a will in place ensures that your heirs will be provided for and your wishes for asset distribution will be met. Like many people, have you postponed writing a will? Or, is it time to review and update it?
A will is a formal, legal document instructing your survivors on the settlement of your estate. A qualified legal professional can help to make sure that your will is properly written and contributes to your overall estate planning goals. If your estate is not covered by a will (known as intestate), your state’s intestacy rules will govern how your estate will be divided. Some people believe their estate is too small to require a will, but even if you believe this is the case, you may still want to consider writing a will. The reason is simple: If you die without a will, you automatically forfeit the opportunity to direct the settlement of your estate. In addition to facilitating bequests, a will is an opportunity for you to designate your own executor, guardians for minor children, and other fiduciaries.
If you would like your estate to pass to close friends or to a charity, a will is the primary means of fulfilling these wishes. Without a will, the courts have no way of knowing your preferences and will seek out your relatives—sometimes distant—for distribution purposes. This also applies to estate distributions of unmarried couples. Further, a will gives you the opportunity to designate a secondary beneficiary in the event of the primary beneficiary’s death.
Even those who have shifted the majority of their assets into trusts or who use joint ownership may want to draw up a will. While these methods are designed to bypass probate (the judicial process that establishes the validity of a will), assets not passing by these or similar methods require a will.
Written wills provide direction for distributions to your loved ones. The topic of a will may be difficult to broach, but the many advantages of drafting a will far outweigh the associated discomfort. Careful estate planning allows you to determine how your assets will be divided, who is to be named executor of your estate, and who will receive benefits according to your wishes. Be sure to consult a qualified legal professional for specific guidance.
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