Last year, we commissioned an independent study which showed that only 28% of Americans had a legal, up-to-date Will in place. Even if we took out the under 35’s from this survey, it showed that around two thirds of Americans did not have an up-to-date Will in place. The results clearly showed that most people don’t know when to write a Will, and that there is a common misconception that the best time to write one is later on in life.
When we looked specifically at under 35 year olds, nearly 90 percent of young American adults did not have an up-to-date Will in place!
Why are so many people woefully underprepared for their own death? Well, on a daily basis not many of us like to think about our inevitable demise. Frankly, Its just morbid and something that most of us don’t want to think about. Like going to the dentist or sitting an exam, there are some uncomfortable scenarios that we put off for as long as possible. Writing a Will should not be one of them, but it seems that the thought of going over your possessions and paying a lawyer is just too much effort for most people. Granted, writing a Will isn’t fun and when you’re young there are a million and one exciting things you would rather do but it’s really not such a long and laborious process as you might think. To help you see the benefits of having a Will we have outlined the reasons why you’re (almost) never too young to write one.
When to write a Will? Death comes to us all
You shouldn’t think of writing a Will as a once-in-a-lifetime activity. You do not have to wait for the perfect time when your family and financial situation has permanently settled down. We encourage everybody to write their Will today, and then update it throughout your life as your circumstances change.
You have no idea how long you will live. But writing your Will means that if something were to happen, then you would be prepared. If you’re under 18, don’t worry about a Will just yet as in most States you need to be 18 or older to write a Will. But once you are 18 or over, it is your responsibility to outline how you would like your assets to be distributed after death or that privilege will be taken from you. Knowing when to write a Will depends more on what stage of life you are at and how much you want to protect your assets and family. If you believe that you have anything of worth such as a house, savings or children, then there really is no reason to delay until you’re older.
Wills aren’t just about Money
Time for another statistic: over 80 percent of millennials (ages 18-36) do not have a Will! but of those that do, 25 percent are out of date. Although the people in this age range might think that a Will is unnecessary as they are at a lower risk from dying, no one is immune to fatal unexpected accidents or diseases.
Having a Will isn’t just for wealthy people as it simply declares your wishes and provides instructions for your family. Even if you don’t have many assets to bequest, a Will can outline the guardians for your children; allow you to make charitable bequests, or even decide who should NOT be receiving anything from your estate. If you are fairly young and healthy, you absolutely need a Will:
- if you own property or have savings, stocks and bonds;
- if you have children, and
- if you are joining the military or other occupation where your life is at risk.
If you die without a Will, the government official in your State of residence will decide how to allocate all of your property and assets based on State probate laws. For most people, this normally means that your closest relatives, spouses or siblings will receive your property. However, the law does not take into account your individual circumstances and it doesn’t know or care if there are unresolved family disputes. This could have a terrible result for your loved ones as distant relatives, ex-partners and uninvolved parents could be the ones to legally gain from your death. Would you not prefer to be the person that determines where your hard-earned money, cherished possessions and beloved children go?
If you are in any non-traditional relationship, for example, not married or cohabiting with a partner, and you do not have a Will, your partner will receive absolutely nothing from your estate. Your parents are probably first in line, and your partner is not even in the picture for intestate succession (distribution of your estate without a Will).
Another important factor about not having a Will is that it virtually guarantees that your surviving family will face more costs and stress. Your estate will incur extra fees and delays due to the lack of a Will. Your family will also have to deal with the estate being distributed by the State which could result in arguments and expensive legal battles. These added burdens can all be avoided by simply having a Will which will ensure your final wishes and give your family peace of mind.
Cost can be a factor
When writing a Will there are three main options with varying costs.
Your most expensive option is to work with a estate planning attorney. This approach has one key advantage in that you can receive legal advice if your situation is complicated, or you think that your estate may benefit from advanced estate planning techniques. However, if you do not need this sophisticated legal advice you may be paying $800-$1,000 for a professional that you do not need.
At the other end of the spectrum is a blank, do-it-yourself Will kit. These are usually very cheap and can sometimes even be free. But they come with the distinct disadvantage that they may not actually work and you may create a Will that could cause more aggravation for your loved ones than dying without a Will. In this case something may not be better than nothing.
Most of the high profile cases of people running into issues with do-it-yourself Will kits, come from these blank form kits. Commonly people make mistakes like trying to list all of their assets in the Will (you should never do this), they fail to include alternate scenarios for example, somebody in the Will pre-deceasing them, and they cannot include sophisticated clauses like trusts for minors or lifetime interest trusts for partners.
The third approach is using an online Will writing service like the one offered at USLegalWills.com. This process is analogous to using tax preparation software to file your taxes, where you are guided through the process of preparing your Will. In fact, it’s a lot simpler than filing your taxes.
The online Will writing advantage
There are a number of key advantages to using an online Will writing service to prepare your own Will. The most obvious is a cost advantage. Our service allows you to prepare a Will and have one year of unlimited updates to that document for $39.95. About 95 percent cheaper than an estate planning attorney.
The service is also much more convenient. You can sit on your sofa, turn on your iPad, and write your Will in about 20 minutes. You can start the process this evening, and when the system asks a tricky question, like appointing a guardian, you can save your work, discuss the appointment with friends and family members and then return at a later date. So the answer to “When to write a Will?” could be right now, or just after dinner.
Online Will services also offer much more than simple Will writing. The service at USLegalWills.com for example, includes the option to document your assets for your Executor through a type of Executor Handbook in our MyLifeLocker service. We also allow you to name trusted individuals that we call “keyholders” who can gain access to your important files at the appropriate time (and not before). You can also upload important files to a digital vault.
If you’re not sure when to write a Will, then write one now. You don’t know what is around the corner for you or anyone else, so don’t put of making a wise decision today because you would rather spend the money on something which will not help your family in the long run. Having a Will in place is the best use of both your time and money. No matter what age you are, we all have treasured possessions and assets that we want to see in the hands of our loved ones – make sure that happens with a Will!
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of USLegalWills.com.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets, and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, NY Metro Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and other leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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