“ Wills? Seriously, how many more depressing topics are we going to talk about? This is eff…”
You’re cut off. I’mma let you finish… but yes, you should really have a will. Now if we can get a word in, we’ll tell you what you need to know about wills.
In layman’s terms, a will is a legally binding document that outlines how your assets should be distributed after you pass away. In the event you can’t stand your heirs and want to incite family chaos after you leave this world, by all means skip the will; but if your money and your personal property are important to you and you want your heirs to have a clear understanding of who gets what, then you need a will. A will also names a legal guardian for any minor children you have, so this document becomes vital once you have a family.
Still need convincing? We have one word for you: Intestacy. And no, it’s not a term you forgot from high school biology class. That means if you pass away and don’t have a will to specify where your assets should go, the state steps in to distribute your assets. Though it varies among states, your assets are generally split between your spouse and your children… but that might not be what you intended. Not-so-fun fact: if you and your spouse both pass away with no will and minor children at home, it’s up to the court to appoint a legal guardian for them, and that also might not be the person you intended.
You can DIY your will or you can hire an estate lawyer to draw one up for you- it depends on the kind of headache you want. We kid. What you really need to do is assess your personal situation. If you’re married, for instance, with few assets, no young children and a clear beneficiary, you can use the simple clauses and outlines in a will template, sign your will in front of witnesses, and put in a filing cabinet at home where it is easy to find. DIY wills will be much cheaper than hiring a lawyer and should take you just a few hours to finish.
But don’t forget that as your situation changes, so should your will. A will that you write at 28 might be very different than a will you’d write at 38- you know, kids, house, and other adult things in the picture- if you’re not sure you should DIY it, consult a lawyer. A few other situations where you should err on the side of the legal department are: if you have an ex-spouse, children from a previous marriage, major assets, a home, or most importantly, if you think someone could contest your will. (like that ex-spouse). Lawyers may charge a flat fee of several hundred dollars if your estate isn’t too complicated; but if you’ve got multiple homes or other signs of successful adulting (um, jealous!), it could cost upwards of $1,000 to work with a lawyer.
Bottom line: Everyone's situation is different and so is their will.
Photo: Ell Brown
This article is 1st in the Writing Your Will Series