According to the global analytics firm Gallup, only about 44% of Americans have created a will. This finding may not surprise you. After all, no one wants to be reminded of their mortality or dwell on what might happen upon their death, and writing a last will and testament is seldom on a Millennial or Gen Xer’s to-do list. What may surprise you is the statistic cited by personal finance website The Balance: around 35% of Americans 65 and older lack wills.
A Will Is an Instrument of Power
By creating one, you gain control over the distribution of your assets. If you die without one, the state decides what becomes of your property, without regard to your priorities.
A will is a legal document by which an individual or a couple (known as “testator”) identifies their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets after death. A will can typically be broken down into four parts.
- Executors — Most wills begin by naming an executor. Executors are responsible for carrying out the wishes outlined in a will. This involves assessing the value of the estate, gathering the assets, paying inheritance tax and other debts (if necessary), and distributing assets among beneficiaries. It is recommended that you name an alternate executor in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the obligation. Some families name multiple children as co-executors, with the intention of thwarting sibling discord; this can introduce a logistical headache, as all the executors must act unanimously.
- Guardians — A will allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children. The designated guardian you appoint must be able to assume the responsibility. For many people, this is the most important part of a will, since if you die without naming a guardian, the courts will decide who takes care of your children.
- Gifts — This section enables you to identify people or organizations to whom you wish to give gifts of money or specific possessions, such as jewelry or a car. You can also specify conditional gifts, such as a sum of money to a young daughter, but only when she reaches a certain age.
- Estate — Your estate encompasses everything you own, including real property, financial investments, cash, and personal possessions. Once you have identified specific gifts you would like to distribute, you can apportion the rest of your estate in equal shares among your heirs, or you can split it into percentages. For example, you may decide to give 45% each to two children and the remaining 10% to your sibling.
A Do-It-Yourself Will May Be Acceptable, It May Not Be Advisable.
The law does not require that a will be drawn up by a professional. So, you could create your own will, with or without using a template. The problem is that if you make a mistake, you will not be around to correct it. When you draft a will, consider enlisting the help of a legal, tax, or financial professional. They may be able to offer you additional insight, especially if you have a large estate or a complex family situation.
Remember, A Will Puts Power in Your Hands
You have worked hard to create a legacy for your loved ones. You deserve to decide how that legacy is sustained.