By Allison L. Lee
According to a recent survey, two-thirds of U.S. adults have no will. Whether they find the act of will-writing too scary, expensive, emotionally draining, or just can’t seem to find the time, these individuals risk losing out on the chance to lay out their final wishes on their own terms - and simplify the process of settling their affairs for their loved ones.
If you still need to get a will in place or update an old will that no longer meets your current needs, here are four reasons to motivate you to get it done today:
To be fair. Let’s say you have two children. You gave $15,000 to your oldest child on their 18th birthday, and are planning to do the same for your younger child when they turn eighteen. But what happens if you die prior to making this second gift? One solution is to include instructions for an equalizing gift to be made in your will.
Another way to level the playing field in this scenario is to create what’s known as a “pot trust” in your will, which will last until your younger child reaches a set age or life milestone (like graduating from college).
With a pot trust, you’ll name a trusted individual as trustee. This person can make careful distributions based on your prior guidance and wishes to your children, and take into account (and equalize if appropriate) any major life expenses — like the cost of college that you may have expended for one child but not the other — before ultimately distributing the remaining estate equally between beneficiaries.
To be charitable. Charities depend on their supporters to help sustain their mission. If there’s a cause that’s important to you and you want to support it as part of your lasting legacy, making a will and leaving a charitable bequest can be an incredibly powerful statement or act of solidarity. Without a will, your favorite charity can never inherit from you under the law.
Did you know that you can also tailor a gift to your favorite charity to support a specific program or initiative? This could include directing your donated funds to support research about a specific disease, the construction of a new wing of a children’s center, or any other area of the charity’s work that has personal meaning to you.
And if you notify the charity of your intended bequest, you may be able to build a deeper relationship with the organization and its work during your lifetime. This could allow you to:
- Learn more about ways to help further their mission
- Be kept abreast of new developments and initiatives of particular interest
- Stay connected to similarly situated individuals wanting to help carry on the mission from generation to generation
To be caring. Does your granddaughter love playing dress-up with your pearl earrings? Has your grandson expressed an interest in your old baseball trading cards? Would a dear friend in a close faith community be touched to receive a cherished religious item that other loved ones are unlikely to similarly appreciate?
Instead of simply dividing your entire estate in equal shares among your family members without regard to specific items, think about other people in your social circle who make your life special and give your days meaning. If there are items of little monetary value but potentially great sentimental value to someone you care about, specifically bequeathing these items to them in your will can help ensure they carry your memory with them.
To be strategic. Most people planning their estate have many different types of property they’ve acquired during their lifetime, including real estate property, financial accounts, works of art or collectibles, and digital assets. As time goes on, you’re also likely to sell existing assets and acquire new ones.
During the estate administration process, your will executor is going to have to familiarize themself with all your assets. This can present a challenge if you’ve named someone with a specific skill, like your child who is a real estate agent. They may not be as familiar with other different asset classes, like cryptocurrency or art, which can make administering your estate difficult for them
One way to safeguard your assets and not overburden your executor is to name a second person to specifically handle one area of your estate, like choosing a digital executor to manage your digital assets.
Here’s how it can be useful: If you name one child as your will executor and another as your digital executor, you can leverage the strengths and skills of each child, while ensuring they both feel like an integral part of the process of carrying out your wishes. At the same time, you’ll also help them avoid the administrative challenges of a full co-executorship, which can sometimes delay or over-complicate the process.
Every U.S. adult should plan for their future by creating a will — and take care to update their plans as life changes. If your to-do list still has this important task unchecked, perhaps one of the above reasons to write your will resonates with you. If so, consider taking a moment of self-care to get your affairs in order.
About the author: Allison L. Lee
Allison L. Lee is the attorney-at-law and director of trusts & estate content for FreeWill, a mission-based public benefit corporation that partners with nonprofits to provide a simple, intuitive and efficient platform to create wills and other estate planning documents free of cost. Through its work democratizing access to these tools, FreeWill has helped raise more than $4 billion for charity.