Creating a will is one of the most thoughtful things you can do for your loved ones.
Thus it's surprising to learn that, according to a survey from Caring.com, 6 out of 10 American adults don't have one. Though it's never fun thinking about the time when we'll inevitably leave this earth, establishing a roadmap for properly managing your assets is essential.
Establishing a will helps to avoid confusion and conflict among surviving loved ones. It also serves as a tool to exercise greater control over the probate process—the court process for administering a person's estate—once you're gone.
Neil Jansen, an attorney with Mika Meyers PLC, notes that preparing a will can be done for any person over 18, though most people only begin to consider creating one when they become responsible for another person—such as a spouse or child.
"Nevertheless," Jansen said, "single people without children may have a greater need for a will because the state's statutory structure will often conflict with their wishes."
When it comes to assets that should go into your will, this could be as simple or as complex as you desire.
"A basic will identifies who the person chooses to manage their affairs after death—their Personal Representative; who they choose to care for their minor children—their Guardian; and how they would like their assets distributed," said Jansen. "A more complex will can include charitable bequests and appointment of a funeral representative. But the more complex their instructions, the more likely they will also use a Trust to manage their estate."
Though you could draft a will yourself, even if it's on the back of a napkin, having one professionally drafted by a lawyer is beneficial for many reasons.
"Self-drafted wills often create more confusion and lead to more conflict than those drafted with the advice of an attorney—leading to a more expensive probate of the estate," said Jansen.
"People who don't have experience with creating these documents often overlook issues that need to be addressed, use ambiguous language, or create conflicting clauses that lead to disputes and more need for court intervention."
As life happens, you may wonder how often your will should be updated to reflect your wishes. Jansen explains that a good will should be flexible enough to last your lifetime but should be reviewed or updated if your family situation changes through marriage, divorce, or loss of a spouse; if you experience significant changes to your financial situation; or when your children become adults.
Almost as important as having a will is your method of storage. Many people choose to keep their will in a safe or fire-proof case at home or in a safety deposit box. It's important to note that most attorneys will also offer to store a person's original will in a secure filing cabinet in their office.
What happens if you pass away without a will altogether? You have less control in the probate process, meaning things could get tricky and stressful for your loved ones.
"The Estates and Protected Individuals Code provides a system for appointing Guardians for minor children, appointing a Personal Representative, and paying the decedent's debts and distributing their assets," Jansen said. "Though it may be sufficient for some families, it may not meet the individual's goals."
Basically, the state gets to decide who gets your assets including your house, car, savings, and so on.
Jansen stresses that everyone's situation is unique—and even if you think you only need a "simple" will, creating one is worth seeking professional help.
"By consulting with an attorney, you'll learn of the many options available to you both through a will and through other planning techniques that could avoid the probate process, reduce costs, and increase the benefits provided to your loved ones after you're gone."
What are you waiting for?
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.