Sometimes people ask me, “Why should I get a will?” Here are some answers to common questions about that most basic estate planning document, the last will and testament.
Why Get a Will?
A will is most important when one has children between the ages of 0 and 18, because a will is where you name a guardian for your children. But everyone needs a will because if you don’t have one, all of your assets and personal property will be divided up according to the laws of the state you are living in when you die, which for some people means that your young children will end up with more assets than your spouse!
Besides, everyone has something, even if it’s an old guitar or a sentimental necklace, that you’d prefer to give to someone specific.
Can I Make My Own Will?
You can, but you shouldn’t. For some people, online or over-the-counter software works alright. Whether you should use a lawyer depends on your personal circumstances and comfort level. But if you’re at all unsure, it’s probably worth paying for a professional. Actually, the introduction of do-it-yourself software has forced lawyers to dramatically lower their prices for these entry-level estate planning documents, so it’s well worth your investment to hire an attorney.
If you are naming a guardian for children hiring a lawyer is a must –software won’t talk to you about the important questions like a lawyer will. For example, let’s say you name your sister Sarah and her husband Bobby as guardians of your child. What if Sarah and Bobby get divorced – do you want the child to stay with Sarah, or Bobby? Okay, Sarah. Now say Sarah has passed away or become incapacitated. Do you want your child to stay with Bobby, who isn’t any relation to you at all, or move to another family member? This is not something you want to get wrong.
Others who should seek a professional help: Small-business owners, parents of children with special needs or couples where one partner is facing an illness like Alzheimer’s or who may have early signs of dementia.
Or maybe you’re remarried but still want to leave most of your assets to your children. This may also call for a lawyer’s assistance, since “disinheriting” a spouse can get tricky. You may want to invest in a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement.
Do I Need More Than a Will?
Everyone should have documents in place that allow others to make decisions for you in case you become incapacitated. These documents are very inexpensive to have a lawyer prepare, and save your loved ones much heartache later on.
For medical matters, you need what we in California call an advance health care directive. A durable financial power of attorney gives someone legal authorization to handle your financial affairs when you can’t do so on your own.
Many people, including parents of young children and anyone who owns a home, should consider a living trust. Talk with a local attorney about the pros and cons of trusts and see if they work for you.
Where Should I Keep My Will?
I recommend my clients keep their important documents in a fireproof safe in their home or in a safe deposit box. A copy of your advance health care directive and power of attorney should be sent to your designated agent for those decisions so that they aren’t hunting for documents during a crisis.
Need more help or advice? Have more questions? Call San Diego attorney Daniel Printz anytime to schedule a free consultation: (858) 720-8250.