Estate Planning: Why You Need A Living Will

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No matter your age or current health, it's never too early to start planning for your family's future.
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

Most people don’t like thinking about their own death. It can be scary to consider the emotional and financial impact your passing will have on your loved ones – especially if you’re still relatively young and healthy.

But no matter your age or current health, it’s never too early to start planning for your family’s future. Your circumstances could change at any time, and facing this uncomfortable topic now can save a lot of legal headaches for those who survive you.

Every adult should have a living will to designate what happens to their assets after their death. Although your will is just one component of proper estate planning, it’s one of the most essential, and will inform much of what happens once you’ve passed.

Writing Your Living Will

A living will summarizes what you want to happen to your money, property, and belongings after you die. According to U.S. News, here are a few areas you’ll want to cover in your will:

  • Your executor. The executor of your will is responsible for making sure the terms of the document are carried out. You can choose a family member or a neutral party such as a bank. Naturally, your executor should be someone responsible and trustworthy – this person will be the one who notifies the appropriate agencies of your death, which is critical for settling your debts, collecting and distributing any death benefits, and even preventing identity theft.
  • Your beneficiaries. These are the individuals who will inherit your financial and physical assets, including any insurance payouts. This group typically includes your immediate family members, but you can designate anyone you wish as a beneficiary, as long as the proper paperwork is filled out.
  • A guardian for your children. If you have young children, you’ll want to appoint someone to take care of them if you pass away before they reach adulthood. While you don’t have to obtain a person’s permission before listing them as a legal guardian, it’s wise to clear it with them first – they have the right to refuse when the time comes, and if they do, a court will appoint a guardian instead.
  • A specific list of who gets what. You likely know who will get your major assets, like your home or your car, but if you have treasured family heirlooms that you want passed down to a specific individual, write it down. Otherwise, your family may end up fighting over your possessions.

Once your will is properly signed (most states require two or three adult witnesses), put it in a safe place, and tell someone you trust where and how to retrieve it when it’s needed. Other things to include with your will include important documents like deeds and titles, passwords to financial institutions, and if appropriate, letters to your relatives.

Other Estate Planning Considerations

While you are writing your will, you may also want to consider two other important estate planning documents: a power of attorney and a healthcare directive. These documents ensure that only the people you designate and trust will be making important legal, financial, and healthcare decisions if you are physically and/or mentally unable to make those choices for yourself.

This is crucial, because your will only covers what happens post-mortem. A power of attorney and healthcare directive will ensure that your wishes are honored while you are still alive, even if you’re in critical condition.

If you already have a living will, U.S. News recommends revisiting it every few years to make sure everything is still accurate. If you had a falling out with a family member, or someone listed in the will passed away, you’ll want to update it to reflect your current circumstances.

If you’ve never written a will and don’t know where to start, speak with your attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer who specializes in estate planning can help you organize your assets and make sure nothing – and no one – gets left out of the will-writing process.

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