Do I need a will?
Lately, I’ve been hearing that question and many other questions about having a will.
I completely understand, and this can feel like such a complicated topic.
Putting a will together is something that most people don’t think they need when they are young. You might think nothing will happen to you and that you have plenty of time before you need to write one.
However, having a will is something that can protect your assets and help your family members decide what to do once you pass. It can also make the probate process much quicker and smoother if you didn’t have one.
Losing a loved one is never easy, but if you’ve ever dealt with a death of someone close to you, you may have heard how helpful it was if they had a will. No one has to guess what they would want to happen, as a will honors their wishes.
That’s because your will tells those close to you how to handle your finances, your house, any other assets, and even your pets. For parents, a will is important so that your children’s future is protected.
I know that is a hard thing to think about, especially if you are young, but having a will is something that will give you peace of mind.
Even though thinking about creating a will sounds stressful or complicated, it’s actually very easy to do, and that’s exactly what this post is about today.
I want to help you figure out if you need a will, what to put in your will, and the best way to create one.
Like I said, I’ve heard more people asking questions about wills, so this post will answer any of the questions you may have so you can decide if you need a will and how to put one together.
Recently, I asked you, my readers, what questions you have about wills. Some of the questions you had included:
- How old should you be to have a will?
- Who should have a will? Do I need a will?
- My husband and I do not have children. Who should be our executor if we do not want to burden extended family with this task?
- I don’t have a will because we don’t have any good choices for godparents for our kids. What do you recommend?
- Is a living trust better than a will? What is the difference?
- Is there a situation in which you would not need a will?
- What happens if a person dies without a last will?
- Does the will have to be prepared by an attorney? Is it okay to use an online template and get it notarized?
- What are the steps to creating a will?
Because this is not an area that I’m an expert on, I gave these questions to Jenny Xia of FreeWill. Jenny is an expert on wills, and my interview with her will answer some of the most important questions about creating a will.
FreeWill is an online platform that provides free and intuitive estate planning. They have helped over 150,000 people in the U.S. create their wills, advanced healthcare directives, financial powers of attorney, and revocable living trusts. FreeWill is one of the best free online will makers, and I’m excited to introduce Jenny to you in our interview below.
A little background on Jenny Xia: She was previously at Bain Capital, where she helped start the impact investing fund, McKinsey, and she’s also a cofounder of Paribus, a fintech company that exited to Capital One. She was recently named on Forbes 30 Under 30 and Town & Country’s Top 50 Philanthropists.
This isn’t sponsored or an affiliate post (I am not getting paid whatsoever!). I simply thought this would be a great way to help you learn more about wills. I hope these questions help take some of the stress out of writing your will.
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Do I need a will? And answers to other questions about creating a will.
1. How old should you be to have a will?
30 is a good time to start thinking about writing a will.
Here are some examples of reasons why you might need one around 30:
- You have accumulated some assets.
- You have bought your first house or apartment.
- You have had your first kid.
- You have a substantial amount of digital assets (think pictures, social media accounts).
- You have a pet you want to assign a caretaker for. (Fun fact: pets are actually treated as property in probate courts, so you can’t leave them assets directly! You would want to make sure you nominate someone you trust to take care of them, and leave assets to that caretaker.)
2. Who needs a will? Do I need a will?
Anyone who has a home, children, pets, digital assets, or other things that you want to leave to specific people you love.
3. My husband and I do not have children. Who should be our executor if we do not want to burden extended family with this task?
If not family, people frequently will ask friends. You are looking for someone who first and foremost is someone you trust. Being an executor is a big responsibility – this person will need to gather up all your assets, liquidate them, and distribute the assets according to your wishes.
In addition, you might want to look for someone who is detail-oriented, organized, and good at dealing with people (in particular your family). Someone who lives near you is also a good idea, since it is likely they will have to go to your home frequently to do things like: pick up the mail, make court appearances, and set up an estate sale.
It’s also common to nominate one of your beneficiaries as your executor because they have skin in the game to get it done quickly and correctly.
If no family or friends come to mind, you could hire a third-party, like an estate planning attorney or local bank, to be your executor.
4. I don’t have a will because we don’t have any good choices for godparents for our kids. What do you recommend?
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good!
If you don’t have a will, you are leaving it up to the government to decide who takes care of your kids if anything should happen to you.
Chances are, the next of kin as defined by your local courts may not be your top pick to be the guardian of your children. So make your best bet on someone who is trustworthy, reliable, and shares your values.
Another thing to consider is that you can change your will frequently!
So don’t be worried about making the perfect “forever decision” on a guardian. If you use an in-person attorney, it is likely that they will charge you each time you want to make a change. However, if you use an online resource like FreeWill, you can update your will pretty easily.
Generally, all the online will-making platforms will save your answers in your online account, so in just a couple minutes you can make the changes you need, print out a new will, sign it with witnesses and a notary, and have a new valid will! Most online solutions charge you for updates, but on FreeWill, we make it free to create and update all estate planning documents forever.
5. Who is best to make the executor of your will?
Someone you trust!
Who is also: detail-oriented, organized, good with people, close in location, and willing to do it.
Have a conversation with the person in advance to make sure they are willing and able to take on the responsibility.
6. Is a living trust better than a will? What is the difference?
Living trusts are more complicated to create than a will, and require ongoing maintenance by their creator as he or she continues to acquire property. If you are still relatively young, this may mean many years of attention. Similarly, if you have a small amount of property, then probating your estate may be relatively simple, quick, and cheap – if that’s the case, some of the advantages of a living trust may not apply.
On the other hand, if you are older, have largely stopped acquiring new property, have a substantial estate, and/or want to make sure that your loved ones are able to receive their inheritance quickly, a living trust may be for you. Furthermore, if you live in a state – like California – where the probate process moves slowly and legal fees are relatively high, you may want to consider a living trust.
7. Is there a situation in which you would not need a will?
Yes, but it is rare!
If you have very few things (think: a studio apartment and no car), no dependents, no pets, and the assets you have are sitting in financial accounts (checkings, savings, brokerage) where you have already listed beneficiaries, you probably don’t need a will nor a trust.
That said, it will make it harder for your loved ones to receive anything from your estate if you pass away without a will.
8. What happens if a person dies without a last will?
If a person dies without a will, their belongings go through a process called an “intestate probate” process.
It is particularly long because the courts have to collect information on you and your potential beneficiaries instead of just finding those in your will.
They will need to nominate an executor and guardians for your dependents. They will follow a series of pre-established rules on who inherits your estate, and these rules vary by state.
9. Does the will have to be prepared by an attorney? Is it okay to use an online template and get it notarized?
No, you do not need an attorney. Getting an online template signed and notarized is a completely valid way to create a will.
For example, FreeWill has created over 150,000 completed wills, and we’ve never had a court consider our wills invalid.
10. What are the steps to creating a will?
- First, make a list of all your assets. (If you have a good budget, you’ve probably already done this!)
- Second, make a list of all the people and causes in your life who you might want to leave money to.
- Third, make a list of who are your most responsible family and loved ones to act as guardians and executors.
- Fourth, log into an online platform like FreeWill, and answer a series of questions about your wishes. In less than 20 minutes, you will receive a legal document as a PDF.
- Finally, print, sign, and notarize, for a completely valid, legal will!
11. Can you tell me more about FreeWill? Why is FreeWill free?
Yes! FreeWill.com is an online estate planning platform that allows anyone to write a will, trust, advance healthcare directive and/or power of attorney completely for free.
We are financially supported through nonprofits that want all Americans to be able to do their estate planning for free.
We also make it easy for people to leave part of their estate to charity, but it is completely optional!
It takes the average user less than 20 minutes. We are a social venture and proudly a majority woman-owned business!
Do you have a will? Why or why not? Would you be interested in having me do a FreeWill review?