One of the common misconceptions about wills is that you need significant assets to justify getting one drafted. The truth is, the size of your estate is not the determining factor in deciding whether a will is necessary.
Instead, you need to consider this one question: Is it important for you to decide how your property is distributed and how your children are raised after your death? If the answer is yes, then you need a will. If you prefer for the state to make decisions on your behalf, then that is exactly what will happen if you die without one.
There are two major components of the will. The first distributes your property according to your instructions. This can include everything from your checking account to the pastel afghan that was crocheted by your grandmother. Specifying the beneficiaries of your assets and tangible property before you die is critical to ensuring that they are distributed according to your wishes.
The second major component of the will is crucial for parents, as it names a guardian to care for your minor or special needs children’s personal and monetary affairs. Parents need to give thoughtful consideration to whom they believe will give the best care and support to their children in the event that they both die before the children reach adulthood. They also need to decide who is the best candidate to manage the children’s financial affairs as guardian of the estate or conservator.
With guardianship, probate judges attempt to honor the parents’ first nomination. However, at the time of probate, it is up to the judge to determine whether that person should assume this responsibility. That is why when deciding whom to nominate as a guardian, it is imperative that you are honest with yourself about your nominee’s ability to serve in that capacity. For instance, some candidates may be an excellent surrogate parent, but they manage money poorly. Or, another candidate may be financially savvy, but their lifestyle is not what you envision for your children. In many cases, parents name different individuals as guardians for these two distinct functions based on an individual’s personal strengths.
Remember that the will is executed through probate. As such, while the probate judge’s goal is to honor your final wishes, some wills are contested. That is why it is imperative to ensure that your will is valid in your state of residence. At minimum, a valid will must be written, signed and witnessed. As a best practice, solicit counsel from an estate planning attorney in your state to ensure that it complies with the rules within that state.
Also, nominate someone in your will to serve as an executor, or personal representative, to act as your legal representative after your death. You need to be deliberate in selecting this individual, as they are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out your estate settlement tasks. These tasks include, but are not limited to: probating the will, paying legitimate creditors, filing taxes and distributing assets to your beneficiaries. The person you choose for this role needs to be someone with the capacity to handle these tasks, as it can become a complex and overwhelming process.
A will is often the foundation of an estate plan and critical for those who want decision making rights concerning their property and children.
Life is a journey, plan for it.
Ashleigh Brooker, CFP, is the principal of A.J. Brooker Financial Associates in Columbia. Reach her at info@AJBrooker.com or (803) 724-1235.