The Importance of Making a Will
Your will is your last opportunity to call the shots. How significant is making a will? When you leave no will, your state government would decide where your money goes. The state will give the money to your closest heirs; your spouse and children. But even that can be open to challenge, and the chances of an estate being contested step-up when no will is left. With the increasing number of marriages that end in divorce, wills become particularly important, especially in the relationship of ex-spouses and non-custodial children was marked with acrimony.
Hire an Estate Attorney
Although it is not essential to have a will drawn by an attorney, be aware that any self-help book is unlikely to hold all the rules for drawing a legal will in every state. The rules vary; in many states, three witnesses are needed for a will to be legal. In others, fewer are granted. The chances of a self-drawn will being challenged are high.
Consider finding an attorney. Having her or him draw the will for you would probably cost you $75 to $200. That's not pocket change, but it's far cheaper than not having a will drawn, since an estate left without a will requires more legal work—and more expense—after your death.
Filing a will is not one of the most complex things you'll ever have an attorney do. You do not require a high-powered $250-an-hour attorney for a simple will—or even for a complicated one. It is, as far as legal work goes, routine.
Other Legal Services
A few auto clubs and other organizations give legal insurance. These policies extend legal services from participating attorneys for a fee that is smaller than the normal one. Often, these policies include the drawing of a will. When you have such a policy, and drawing of wills is included, using the service could save you money. But if you are not going to use the attorney to handle matters if you die, dig a little deeper into your pocket and get an attorney your heirs would use again.
Name Your Executor
When naming an executor, remember two qualifications: You need somebody who can get a lot of work done at a time of stress, and somebody you trust. You can name a relative, a friend, or an attorney. Your executor will have to:
- Probate the will. That means taking it all over the legal process, with the help of an attorney, to make it official
- File insurance forms. This is the money that would keep your family when you're gone. Be sure your executor knows where to get all the forms, like insurance policies or applications for death benefits from labor or fraternal organizations.
- Settle your debts. If things are jointly owned—and jointly financed—with a spouse, the spouse continues to be liable for the loans. But a single or widowed person's debts should be settled, and that means utilizing insurance proceeds to do so, or selling assets to settle the claims against your estate.
A living will is your stated intent to die when you feel the time has come. Even people having a strong will to live may choose this option. It can spare survivors a good deal of agony. It can also cut medical costs. The living will is a legal document that declares your predetermined intention to prevent doctors from unnecessarily extending your life. In some states, the legality of living wills has been established in the courts. In others, it has yet to be established. A living will must be drawn by an attorney.
Along similar lines, you may become incapacitated but in no danger of dying imminently. You might prefer to draw a document that names a guardian or conservator who would have power of attorney the time you become incapacitated. This would allow decisions to be made considering your medical care, debts, and legal matters. Again, it may save a great deal of anguish among the people who care for you if you have unequivocably declared your wishes under these circumstances. Talk these things over with your family as rationally and unemotionally as possible.