Despite its natural, inevitable nature, death is an uncomfortable subject for many people. Turning attention to what life might be like for others, once you’re gone, may not be the most appealing pastime, but certain accommodations must nonetheless be made in advance of your death. Naming beneficiaries on insurance policies and investments, for example, provides protection in the event of your demise, making sure your assets are distributed to the proper parties. A Last Will and Testament, or simply “will,” is an expanded document which serves a similar function; earmarking possessions to be passed-on and outlining your wishes for administering you estate.
Preparing a will in advance of your death makes sense on several grounds. If you have not taken the time to prepare a will, consider some of the following reasons it may be prudent to create one at this time.
Consider Your Survivors
While the subjects contained in your will are highly personal, sharing innermost thoughts and feelings; the document is ultimately put in-place for the benefit of survivors. Grief over your passing is a burden in and of itself; so piling-on additional uncertainty can complicate the situation even further. Constructing a comprehensive will takes the burden away from survivors, furnishing assurances that everything will unfold in a reasonable way.
Maintaining a will ensures that your legacy will carry-on as intended. When no will is present at the time of death, your estate becomes subject to legal jurisdiction governing how it must be handled. Personal property, for example, can be bequeathed specifically according to the terms contained in your will, whereas legal statutes take-over regarding property distributions, when no will is available.
While your estate might seem straightforward, it is a mistake to assume your wishes will be carried out by the courts in lieu of a will. If you have no spouse or children, for example, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews may be in line to inherit your property – unless you articulate a will naming other beneficiaries. A friend or long-term partner, for instance, may be designated to receive personal property in the event of your death, but will be left out in the cold when no will is available to identify your wishes.
Saves Time and Money Settling Your Estate
Even if your estate is not highly valued, in terms of assets and property held, it can become complicated to administer without a will. Legal issues and contentious heirs arise in many cases, calling for professional assistance from lawyers and tax advisors. Not only does the added effort take time, but legal fees and paid consultation add-up quickly, eating-in to the value of your estate.
When an up-to-date will is maintained, many questions are summarily resolved at the time of your death, expediting the resolution of your estate. While wills are relatively inexpensive to produce, they nonetheless hold the potential to save significant sums of money administering your estate, once you are gone.
Assignment of Executor
In addition to identifying property distributions, wills are used to designate who will be in charge of administering your wishes. Once commonly referred to as “executor”, the person tasked with managing your estate is sometimes referred to as “personal representative”. Your will allows you to select a friend or family member you feel comfortable with, and who will administer your estate competently and efficiently. To avoid family conflicts and inconsistencies, some individuals name professionals to administer their wills.
In the absence of a will, the courts choose personal representatives, to oversee proceedings on your behalf. While court-appointed representatives are not granted powers above and beyond other members of your family, your ability to select your own personal advocate is lost when you die without a will in-place.
You may realize additional benefits, such as tax-planning advantages, by maintaining a properly formatted will. But at the very least, you’ll protect your heirs and beneficiaries; ensuring your desires are carried out after death.
Updated: February 23, 2014