When do you really want a will?

As I discussed in one of my earlier posts, there are times when discount wills are more appropriate than lawyers for making a will. For example, if we are very young and in a non-dangerous profession, don’t have significant assets, and nothing else is going on, we may prefer a discount will or simply to put off making a will altogether. This is still taking a risk, because we can always get hit by a bus and then our family may find it a little harder because we didn’t plan better. Also because discount wills are not nearly as good as meaningful estate planning. But there’s only a small probability of dying young.

On the other hand, as you accumulate wealth and have people depending on you for whom your savings would make a difference, it becomes much more important to get a will even if you’re young. That’s because the financial consequences to people dependent on you can be huge.

And caring for our loved ones includes planning for our death, which will be one of the most traumatic events of their life. So it’s important to understand what can elevate our need for a will. (It’s important to note that even if you don’t have a will, you should have powers of attorney. They’re cheap and can make life easier if you get in an accident or have a stroke and someone needs to make medical or financial decisions for you. It’s honestly kind of inconsiderate not to have one.)

We should have a will …

  • If we have kids. It matters who cares for your kid. Don’t think twice about protecting your kids in case something happens to you.
  • If we want to help provide for our parents in the event of our death, knowing we would have helped them if we had been alive. This is especially important if we have an able spouse who will not need our share of our assets and parents (or other relatives) who will.
  • If we have children from a prior marriage.
  • If we want to be sure a particular item of property, such as a treasured family heirloom, is left to a person we care for.
  • If a person who may inherit from us is not good with money.
  • If we are over 46 if male, or over 52 if female. By simple math, these are the latest ages at which anyone should get a will because at this age we have a 5% chance of dying within the next ten years.
  • If we have a higher than usual risk of death. This may be because nobody of our gender in our family has lived to seventy before, or because of a chronic health condition, or because of a lifestyle factor, or because of a dangerous profession.
  • If we have family members who may fight over our assets after our death. In these cases, knowing that our property is disposed of as we wished it to be can help limit what would otherwise be years of resentment between family members.
  • If we have family members who are severely estranged and we do not wish them to inherit anything.
  • If we do not want lawmakers in Olympia to decide what will happen to our home, money, and possessions.
  • If anyone who will inherit from us is bad with money or has special needs and may receive government assistance.
  • If we are exceptionally risk-averse.
  • If we want to donate a part of our life’s earnings to charity.

While it saves a few dollars to put off making a will or to use a discount service, and the risk may not quite justify spending the money yet–there are many reasons why we may want a professionally done will before we definitely need one. Still, even if we decide not to get one, we should probably at least prepare financial and healthcare powers of attorney (and disability insurance) to help us in case of accident while we are alive.

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