Should You Write A Will? It's Easier (And More Important) Than You Think
You need to write a will. This is not something that I'm bringing up because I'm being morbid. Wills are necessary stuff for Adults to have, particularly if said Adults are earning money and have particular ideas about where their stuff should go if they happen to die. Maybe you think you don't need a will because you're not rich, aren't married, or don't have children. But wills can help anyone who has any assets — from a massive bank account to an extensive Lego collection — divide those assets fairly among family and friends, sparing your loved ones the stress of having to sort your affairs out while still grieving. Want to give all your money to the dolphins after you die? Just write it down, and it will happen. Wills are a way to make sure that no one has to guess about what you "would have wanted" done with your assets — because you made what you actually wanted done with them crystal clear.
Dying without a will is called dying intestate, and the laws about what happens next differ from state to state. Usually there's a system in place to decide who gets what you leave behind — but who gets what depends on where you lived when you died, and it can get messy, especially if you have any feuds with any family members. But making a will that guarantees your wishes are respected. Funnily enough, knowing that everything is set in the event of your death can actually give you a lot of peace of mind while you're alive. So how do you write a will? Here's how to plan for life after your life, in 10 simple steps.
1. Get A Will Kit Or Write One Online
You don't have to go to a lawyer to write a will if your situation is fairly uncomplicated (i.e. you're not divorced, you don't have adopted kids, you don't want your family to have to go on a treasure hunt to find a secret pot of gold you've buried in your backyard, etc). DIY will kits are actually pretty easy to get your hands on. Amazon has a range of will kits, depending on your needs, while other services, like US Legal Forms, will let you submit answers to an online questionnaire and fill in the will for you for a flat fee.
2. Identify Your Assets And Debts
An asset is everything you own that could conceivably be converted into cash money. For people our age, that will mostly be personal possessions, like laptops, jewelery and furnishings, plus our savings or earnings. Investments and 401ks are in the pot, too. Take an inventory of every single item like this in your life, and figure out where you'd like them to go.
You should also assess your debts. If you have college debt, figure out what the debt lender's policy is — Wells Fargo, for instance, has a debt forgiveness policy after death. Credit card debt, however, is almost never forgiven in the event of a death — that payment will have to come out of whatever assets you leave behind.
3. Know What Doesn't Get Discussed In A Will
There's a common misconception that wills are where you talk about your plans for what you want done with your body after you die. Wrong: funeral wishes should probably be recorded somewhere else, particularly if they're specific and need a bit of planning (i.e. they involve being shot out of a cannon or being made into a diamond ring). And this should go without saying, but tell people in your life that you've made funeral plans, so they know to look for them.
Life insurance also doesn't need to be mentioned in your will. But here's a pro tip: it's generally considered a good idea to have your insurance policy pay out into a trust rather than directly to another person, because it will help your family avoid having to pay an inheritance tax.
4. Get The Format Right
You can write a will by hand (in which case a witness is not required) or type it (which requires two witnesses). But you can't just video or Vine yourself writing your will in the absence of a witness and expect the will to be considered legally valid — videos of will signings are usually only used to prove that the signer is of sound mind.
When writing your will, you will need to get the wording correct and know what particular terms mean in order for the will to be legally binding — but don't worry, online legal clinics have good guides to correct will language. The specific terms carry a lot of weight when it comes to wills — a specific gift means leaving a person a certain thing or amount of money, while a conditional gift means that the person has to do something in order to earn the reward (i.e. giving a friend your life savings after they scatter your ashes in a certain place.)
5. Pick A Sensible Executor
When you're dead, you won't be able to sort out your estate, no matter how organized a will you leave. You'll need to appoint an executor, who is legally responsible for executing your wishes about how to distribute your estate. The executor has a lot of work to do — they have to find out the value of all your possessions, freeze all your accounts until they can divide the money, notify everybody who's been left something in your will, and file any inheritance tax your estate needs to pay. So pick that one friend (over 18) who really has their act together.
6. Get A Social Media Executor
This is an interesting modern development: many young people may find it comforting to have somebody appointed to go in and close down all their social media accounts once they've passed away. The US government even has a template available to help you write a social media will, where you can declare how you'd like your social media presence to be handled after your death. Your social media executor will need to be given all your usernames and passwords after your passing, plus your death certificate, so again, make sure to pick a friend who's together enough to carry out your requests and take them seriously.
7. Sign It With Witnesses Present
If you didn't write your will yourself in your own recognizable handwriting, the law declares that it's necessary to sign it in front of two witnesses who know you've of sound mind. That's so nobody can accuse other people of forging it, getting you to sign it under false pretenses, or coercing you to sign it under duress, after you die.
8. Get Legal Advice If You Need It
If your situation's complicated — you have a lot of valuable possessions, you're in the process of a separation or have a common-law partner — you may need to call in the big guns. Lawyers can help with formatting and producing a binding will in cases where things aren't super-simple.
9. Keep It In A Known Place
People need to know where your will is. Forget all the Agatha Christie nonsense about hiding your will in a plant pot or secret drawers — the executor, at least, needs to know where the damn thing's being kept. It can be held by a lawyer or a local will writing service (for a fee), or you can put it somewhere in your home — but don't put it in a bank deposit box, because opening them after you're dead is a pain in the bloody neck.
10. Update It When Your Circumstances Change
A will is for life, man — so you'll want to keep changing it as your life changes. As you gather more stuff, change your personal circumstances (get married, have kids), or shift relationships with beneficiaries (maybe you don't want to help dolphins now that you know they get up to some dodgy sexual stuff), you'll need to update your will, and invalidate whatever one came beforehand.
Sure, you're not going to start a Pinterest board about all the cool stuff you're doing with your will any time soon. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth doing — and seriously, it will take you half the time it'd take you to make that weird craft project you were thinking about doing this weekend.
Images: Giphy (11)