Benjamin Franklin once said that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. Though we're often wrought with the latter, we avoid the former until it is too late. Planning for our own demise is something that many people never think about. We don't want to and that's perfectly understandable.
But leaving this world without having a plan for your loved ones and your belongings can cause some problems. Let's talk about why you need a will.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document stating your wishes upon your death. They often include the distribution of your property, who will care for children and pets, and, sometimes, what your desires are regarding your funeral arrangements. You may also include donations for organizations you are passionate about, requests for special arrangements for loved ones (such as the stories of husbands prepaying for Valentine's Day flowers years in advance), or requirements regarding inheritance.
There are many ways to create wills, though a popular method is a video wills. The lawyer works as the recorder of the video and allows you to address your after-life affairs. It gives the family one last chance to say goodbye, hear your voice, and enjoy who you were. These wills are not a substitute for written wills and must be accompanied by a traditional will, in print, to be executed.
What Happens Without One?
In a word: Chaos. Though you may have made your requests known to relatives, they have little legal ability to enforce them without documentation. Even if your bank account is empty, you may still have a home, a car, or even a particular ceramic cat that three of your adult children want in their individual homes. And for those with significant estate left behind? A will is a necessity.
With a will, each of your possessions is carefully guided to its new home. Whether it is money, a house, a vehicle, or your dishes, everything lands where it is supposed to. Without a will, your family members are stuck divvying up your belongings like a flea market.
In addition to this, if you have significant debt left behind, you may leave a great deal of strife to your family and loved ones. A will is the safest way to guarantee an easy transition for your family when you're gone. Better yet, they aren't very complicated documents and lawyers process hundreds of thousands of them per year.
Executing a Will
Executing a will simply means that you're making it legal. Laws vary from state to state, but in most states you'll sign it while you're still of sound mind and body, have two witnesses sign it at the same time, and have it notarized. That's it. You're finished.
You may also choose to attach a self-proven affidavit to the will. This allows the probate court to approve the will after your passing without the witnesses present. This is especially handy if your witnesses are busy people or possibly unable to drop what they're doing in the event of your untimely loss. Self-proven wills are very common in large estates. These are already complex matters and require a great deal of work from the Executor as it is. Many large estate owners use self-proven affidavits to make the process easier on everyone involved.
Your Executor has nothing to do with executing your will, though the two sound very similar. But they have everything to do with probate court.
What is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of both carrying out a will and authenticating it. As mentioned above, if an affidavit is present this process is usually expedited. Once the court has established the authenticity of the will document, your wishes will be carried out. Executors use wills as guides for determining what goes where, who comes to any possible reading of the will (some families do this, others do not), and totaling out your final expenses. Taxes, funeral or cremation costs, sales of belongings, donations, and things like that are all part of their job.
When a Trust is Needed
For those on the wealthy end of the spectrum, a trust is almost always necessary. Unless you have precisely one family member who is very conscientious with their funds, trust documentation assures that your family will be taken care of for years to come.