It’s Time to Write Your Will

Get yourself a will because dying without one, “intestate,” is a drag for everyone. Not everyone has a will – even Prince died without one.  Imagine, all that money and one of the greatest performers didn’t spend a little of it on sorting out his estate. We know that death is inevitable, but we continue to make long-term bets. Preparing for an eventual demise, at least by drawing up a will, is a good idea; it smooths the way for your heirs to inherit whatever you’re going to give them, saving time and money. Wills can also help you avoid tax pitfalls and feuding heirs. A will provides control over more than money; it names guardians for people whose children are minors. If you haven’t written these decisions down, the government will make money along with custodial decisions. Why not do what you can to see that your assets get distributed as you would like.

If you don’t have a will, you have good company since, unfortunately, fewer than half of Americans have written a will, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. So where do you start? Even if your life is wonderfully uncomplicated, you will want the help of an advisor. If your finances and family are all extremely straightforward, you can try doing a will yourself by going online, but then hire a lawyer to check your efforts. Some of the products offer consultation with an attorney who will vet the resulting document. If your financial life is more complicated, such as owning a business or having a child who might need a trust, hiring a lawyer is the way to go. A lawyer can help explain the benefits of having things like a “dynasty trust,” which can help protect an inheritance from being lost in a divorce. The attorney can make the document flexible enough to serve for some time but easy to change if need be. An attorney would include clauses giving a surviving spouse lots of flexibility in planning how to get the money and to do tax planning around the inheritance. This would be an opportunity to discuss charitable bequests.

Regarding tax implications of death, the federal estate tax affects only people with millions of dollars’ worth of assets. This affects less than 0.2 percent of people in the United States. That probably is not an issue. An attorney can go through scenarios that cause wills to become complex and fractious, like multiple marriages, blended families with stepchildren from various marriages, families in conflict, and more. You will need an executor of your will; get someone with good judgment. This person can be paid out of your estate. For young children, you will want to name a guardian. If you don’t, the courts will appoint one – much less satisfying than for you to have taken care of this essential matter ahead of time. Experts say it’s good to revisit the will every five years to adapt it to changing circumstances, but most people shouldn’t have to change it more often than that.

Moving on to an advance directive and power of attorney comes next, designating the ability of a person to make decisions if you become incapacitated. It is crucial to name the right person. Then comes the naming of beneficiaries of your pensions, insurance policies, retirement accounts and anything else that will pass to heirs at your death. Make sure that the beneficiaries named in all documents line up with what you put into your will. In most cases, the contract terms of the beneficiary statements will control what happens. Lastly, put your documents in a safe place, making sure your relatives know where they are. From:


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