If there is one thing we need to get done before we die, it’s making a will, but you probably won’t find it on anyone’s bucket list. A lot of us never get around to it. In fact, more than half of Americans between 55 and 64 (presumably at or close to retirement) are without wills, according to a survey by Rocket Lawyer.
What that means is when they die, the state where they live will determine how their assets will be divided. (And if they are parents of minor children, the state may also decide who will raise them.)
Jim Blankenship of Blankenship Financial Planning in New Berlin, Ill., said the arrival of a first child is often what prompts couples to make a will. The desire to choose a guardian then leads to considering how the chosen person will fund the raising of the child. The other impetus for writing a will may come when a close friend or family member dies unexpectedly.
But it’s clear from the statistics that many of us either think we don’t need wills or that we’ll do it later. The real answer to when you need a will is when you have obligations or assets, Blankenship said. If, for example you’re just starting out and you used a co-signer to get a loan, if something happens to you, your co-signer is most likely on the hook for your debt. Or if you have children, then you have someone who depends on you. You’ll want to be sure you have insurance and a will to take care of them.
Homeownership can also prompt people to make wills, Blankenship said. In most cases, a home is both an asset and an obligation, and it should be included in a will.
For the very simplest wills, Blankenship said the kit type you can buy online or at an office supply store is probably adequate. You’ll need to be sure you get the version for your state. For more complicated situations (say, a second marriage, a business or more complex assets), you probably will want legal advice, he said. And remember that some assets can be passed to heirs outside a will — 401(k)s, IRAs, insurance benefits, “just about anything that has a beneficiary,” Blankenship said.
Will kits can walk you through making a will, step by step. The biggest mistake you can make, Blankenship said, is putting it off. The second-biggest, one he sometimes sees with his own pre-retirement clients, is failing to update it as life circumstances change, which is a great time to revisit your beneficiaries.
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