A will cleans up your affairs after your death. You may have decided who should get your IRA funds (your designated beneficiary) and who will get your life insurance, but have you decided who will get your car, or your checking account balance, or your investment account? Your will is the place where you can record those decisions. It cleans up your estate distributions.
Under New Jersey law, if you die without a will and are not married and have no children, your parents will get all of your estate, if they are living, if not, then your brothers and sisters will share your estate. Is this your plan? Is that what you want?
If you are married and have no children, your parents are still entitled to almost 25% of your estate if they are alive when you die. Is this your plan? Is this what you want?
You have taught your kids to clean up there messes after themselves. But have you cleaned up yours? Have you decided how your minor children will be raised if you are not there to finish the job yourself? Have you named a person to be the guardian of the person of you children? Someone to decide where they will live, what medical care they should have, what schools they should attend? Your will is the place to take care of this important responsibility.
Getting a will is neither time-consuming nor expensive. You can get a standardized will from a stationary store, a computer program or online. These wills take care of a few of the basics and are generally better than no will at all. However, I strongly recommend getting help from an experienced attorney. Each of us is a unique person living in particular circumstances very different from each other. The standardized approach is not capable of dealing with such complexity. Moreover, your will should come with personalized explanations and instructions. Like your doctor, your attorney can give you just the special instructions you need to take care of your situation. You could instead go out and read some books and learn what you need. But do you have the time or desire to sort through all the advice that is available and reach the right solution?
An attorney drafted set of wills for a couple is probably cheaper than the couch and side chair or TV and music system in your living room. When you think of the issues involved, which is more important?
A will is particularly important when:
You are single, but in a committed relationship.
You are single, but have children.
You are married.
You have married and have children.
You are divorced.
You are remarried, perhaps not for the first time.
You have children from different marriages.
You have significant assets, which may create an issue with state or federal estate taxes.
You have a minor child who would need a guardian.
You have an adult child with special needs.
You have adult children with one or more in a rocky marriage.
You have children who are estranged from you or from each other.
You or your spouse is not a U.S. citizen.
You have your own business.
You own multiple properties in multiple states or countries.
Your beneficiary struggles with handling money well.
You want to make charitable contributions.
You have property in other states or abroad.
A will doesnt last for a lifetime. If you already have a will it is important to revisit it periodically. Some of the reasons to reconsider your will and or your estate planning.
Your children are mature enough to be the executor or trustee under your wills.
The guardians you named for your minor children are having a messy divorce.
You have moved to a new state.
You are considering purchasing a life insurance of $300K or more.
You have formed a new business with other owners and or partners.
You are approaching retirement.
You have a significant change in your health.
Most attorneys offer an opportunity for a consultation to determine whether changes are needed in your estate planning documents. There are often minor issues that can be taken care of without the need for a complete redo of your estate plan. Additional services that can be helpful include:
A Financial Power of Attorney for a family member.
A Health Care Authorization for a college student or new adult so you can help schedule doctors appointments, get medications, handle insurance claims and payments.
Assistance with a Beneficiary Designation for an IRA or Retirement Plan.
A Life Insurance Trust for new policies.
Advice on how to hold Title on the Deed for a home, investment real estate or vacation property.
Long term care and Elder Law Planning (Medicaid).
Social Security and Retirement Plan timing and distribution planning.