For example, let’s say you experience a life-ending (or deeply life-altering) accident. “A will, in this case, isn’t just about the money you have, but also, who you’re going to appoint to stand in your shoes,” says estate-planning attorney Crystal West Edwards, Esq. “Who’s going to handle your funeral arrangements, and what would you like [those arrangements] to be? Who’s going to have access to your social-media accounts to set up a memorial page, and ultimately, to shut them down? Who do you want to be responsible to make sure that all of the people or companies that need to be contacted about your death are contacted?” These are just a few of the top-line questions that a will can grant you the control to answer for yourself while you still can.
“A will isn’t just about the money you have, but also, who you’re going to appoint to stand in your shoes.” —Crystal West Edwards, Esq., estate-planning attorney
The only real limitation is the price of the will itself, which can start as low as a couple hundred dollars for a basic option that you create online for yourself (using a platform like Trust & Will or Legal Zoom) and tick upward to a couple thousand, if you’re using an attorney. So long as you can afford this amount, though, it’s universally worth having one. Below, estate-planning attorneys share the biggest reasons why everyone needs a will, no matter their age or monetary assets.
4 reasons every adult needs a will, regardless of age or net worth
1. It secures end-of-life medical decisions
At its basic essence, a will tells the people who survive you what you’d like to be done with your belongings post-death—and that includes your body. To get specific, one of the first decisions that’ll need to be made in the event of your death is whether to cremate, bury, or dispose of your body in some other way, and you’re able to outline your preference in a will.
“If you don’t have a will, that decision is guided by state law, which can be dicey,” says Edwards. “For example, in New Jersey, our state law says that the decision falls to your next of kin. Let’s say you don’t have a spouse, but you have two kids. In that case, the directions are to be given by ‘a majority of the children,’ which could mean you have two kids in the funeral home disagreeing about whether to bury or cremate you.” Regardless of the scenario, though, the only way to ensure you have a say over what happens to your body post-death is to legalize it in a will.
For many, that’s a highly important decision—and, notably, one that's also completely independent of your age or assets. Because your stance on this and other end-of-life matters could certainly change over time, though, it’s also worth noting that creating a will now doesn’t lock you into your decisions permanently. “A will isn’t a once-and-done thing,” says estate-planning attorney Patrick Hicks, JD, general counsel at Trust & Will. “Your life evolves, and your plan can, too. We recommend checking in every three to five years, or after any major life event, and asking yourself, ‘Does this still match my desires?’ If it does, you’re all set, and if it doesn’t, you can modify it.”
2. It organizes death- and dying-related logistics
No matter how much or little money you have, chances are you’d be leaving behind some loose ends if you passed away suddenly. A will allows you to decide how and by whom you’d like those ends tied up.
Most imminently, that refers to who’s going to pay your last debts, bills, and taxes, and set up your funeral arrangements, says Edwards. (That person is someone whom you’ll name as the executor of your estate.) If you have children who are minors, a will also allows you to name the person who’ll be their guardian in your absence, says Hicks.
3. It outlines directions for your stuff of sentimental value
Perhaps the clearest reason why everyone needs a will is the fact that wills don’t just handle monetary assets; they can handle material stuff, too. “Anything that can’t be easily divided up into equal parts among loved ones tends to cause family rifts when there isn’t a will specifying where it should go,” says Hicks. “That could mean family photo albums or the portrait on the wall or any other family heirloom that might not have a high amount of monetary value but certainly carries emotional value.” In many states, you can legally specify directions and beneficiaries for these items in a will or within a more detailed memorandum to a will.
4. It allows you to begin creating generational wealth
Part of why there’s no monetary baseline necessary to warrant a will is because it’s worth ensuring whatever money you may have gets passed down to the people whom you'd like to receive it. “Generational wealth doesn’t usually start by someone leaving a family member a million dollars,” says Edwards. “It can start by leaving $5,000 or $2,000 or $10,000 because every little bit helps the following generation move one step closer to whatever their financial goals may be, and better allows them to pay it forward, too.”
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