Less than a hundred years ago, life expectancy was at about 58 years old. We are blessed to live in a country where people’s life expectancy is a lot higher than that today. In 2020, the CDC reported that the average American lives to about 78 years old. That’s an entire two decades more of life and opportunities to experience new things. And while this is great news, part of growing older is learning and understanding how your life’s accomplishments can be passed on to your children and be part of your legacy. This doesn’t begin at age 78, thinking about what you will leave behind is a long-term process and requires some deep thinking and consideration early on and in various stages of life. The foundational step to securing your estate plan is the will and—while everyone’s situation is different—there are a few general considerations to keep in mind. If you’d like to earn more about our estate planning services, click here!
A Will Is a Statement of Your Legacy
The idea of leaving property and assets behind to loved ones, children, and grandchildren, has existed across generations and lands. Even the monarchy relied on rules of ascendancy and rightful heirs. Of course, in those times, the deciding factor was a person’s relationship to the dying person instead of the dying person’s specific wishes. Today, there is great control over where your money and assets go. People can choose to make donations to favorite charities or leave money to causes they believe in, or even leave property to people that are not their immediate family.
In the United States, the last will and testament is recognized as a legal document and will make it much easier for a family to see to the handling of a loved one’s possessions once they are gone. Otherwise, family disagreements or feuds can often cause tension and chaos during moments of charged emotions.
The Difference and Confusion With Will and Living Wills
People often confuse these two documents. A final will and testament take effect upon a person’s death, but a living will comes into effect when a person is still alive and is most commonly used when a person has suffered a debilitating injury. This began in the 1960s when Luis Kutner, a human rights attorney from Chicago, created the first-ever living will.
A living will provides instructions to your family and loved ones—as well as designates a person of your choosing—to make decisions regarding medical treatment if you have been incapacitated.
Why It’s Important to Have a Will
When a person dies without a will, it triggers what is known as intestacy laws. This refers to the state’s legal ability to decide on behalf of a person how the estate is distributed. Every state has different laws regarding this. In most states, these laws automatically decide the estate is left to spouses and/or children, depending on the situation.
Having a will drafted by a professional and experienced estate attorney ensures that there are no mistakes and that your will keeps in mind the particular state’s laws. So to reduce taxes, penalties, or confusion, a will drafted with an attorney that has worked closely with you, is the best option.
A will is important at many stages of life, not just after retirement. There are several reasons why a will is beneficial, including:
- It protects minor children. If minor children are left behind without a legal parent, their full custody can get complicated in the courts. This is why it’s important to know that your children will be taken care of in case something happens to you.
- To make it easier for loved ones. Knowing that someone you trust will handle your estate, will provide peace of mind for everyone involved. A will designates an ‘executor’ that will handle all of your affairs when you are gone. This involves important financial decisions.
- The decision of assets and properties. A will allows you tremendous control over who gets certain assets or properties. You can get as specific as you would like and name a member of the family to take over specific assets. This provides great flexibility about the destiny of your possessions and even who will take care of your beloved pets!
- Eliminate the potential for family disputes. By leaving a specified document with your stated wishes, it makes the process of legal distribution much easier. This eliminates the possibility of causing tension within family members.
For Peace of Mind and the Integrity of Your Legacy, Consider a Will and Testament
Only you know how your assets and property should be distributed. It is your life’s work, your sacrifice, and the fruits of your labor. Only you know who is best to handle that. Don’t let the state make decisions for you. Consult with an experienced law firm.
This article is meant to be informational and is not legal advice. Call the Winterberg Law Firm to find out more about estate planning or how to get your will started.