Despite recognizing the importance of having a Last Will and Testament, as many as two-thirds of adult Americans don’t have one. The reasons for this range from simple laziness to discomfort at the thought of one’s own death. For many, thinking about their own death makes the concept real. As long as they can avoid thinking about it, they can ignore the inevitable.
Unfortunately, failing to plan for one’s death won’t prevent it from happening. Because of that, it is important to write a Last Will and Testament.
Every Adult Needs a Will
While people often think that only the elderly need to have a will, it is advisable for adults of all ages to have one. It is especially important for parents of minor children, even if they don’t have significant assets. Without a will, the government decides who will become your children’s guardian. In order to have a say in who will care for your children—should you die before they reach adulthood—you must draft a Last Will and Testament to state your wishes.
Even adults without families can benefit from having a Last Will and Testament. You have worked hard to earn what you have—your home, your car, your bank account—shouldn’t you have a say in how it will be distributed in the event of your death? Without a will, your wishes will be irrelevant, and the state will decide how to distribute your estate. Precious heirlooms, that you may wish to give to a friend upon your death, will instead be sold at auction and the money will go to the government. In order to make sure that your estate is handled according to your wishes, and that your money is given to a friend, charity, or other organization of your choice, you must draft a will.
According to the United Way, 60% of Americans die without a Last Will and Testament, leaving the government to decide how to divide their estate. If you want to have the final decision about how your estate is distributed after you pass on, a Last Will and Testament is a vital document.
Keep Your Will Up-to-Date
Once you’ve drafted the will, it’s also important to keep it up-to-date. If you have a new child after you draft your will, you must update the will to include that child, even if you wish to state that the child will receive no part of your estate. In most jurisdictions, if you don’t name all of your heirs, they or their legal guardian(s) will have the right to contest your will.
James Brown—the Godfather of Soul—had his will contested in early 2007 because it failed to name the late singer’s youngest son, James Jr, and his widow Tami Rae Hynie (though, there was considerable controversy surrounding the legitimacy of Hynie’s marriage to Brown).
Brown’s will appears not to have been updated since the birth of James Brown Jr, so it is unclear whether the omission was intentional or not. The singer’s intention, however, is irrelevant. Having failed to name one of his heirs meant that Brown’s will was open to contest, highlighting a situation that can happen to anyone’s estate, should they fail to update their will after major life events such as marriage or the birth of a child.
In order to make sure that your will is up-to-date, you should review your will after the following events:
- You get married or divorced (a change in marital status may void your will);
- You are unmarried, but have a new partner;
- The amount of money and/or property you own changes significantly;
- You move to another jurisdiction (some states do not recognize out-of-state wills as valid);
- Your executor or a significant beneficiary in your will dies;
- There is a birth or adoption of a child in your family;
- You change your mind about the provisions in your will.
While the legal fees associated with hiring a lawyer to draft a will are a deterrent for many Americans, the number of inexpensive, do-it-yourself options that are available eliminates this obstacle. It is now quick and easy for anyone to write their own Last Will and Testament.
Given the number of easy-to-use, low-cost alternatives to hiring a lawyer to draw up a will, there is simply no excuse not to plan for the inevitable. As uncomfortable as it may be to think about it, we are all going to die. By drafting a Last Will and Testament, you ensure that your family is taken care of, and that your estate is handled according to your wishes—not the will of the government.