04 Dec 8 items you should know about wills
After many years of advising clients about estate planning, I’ve found that there are lots of misconceptions. In an effort to clear some of these things up, I’ve developed a list of 8 things you might not know about wills.
While I hope this list is helpful, the best way to truly address your specific situation is to have a one-on-one conversation with an attorney who understands all aspects of the legal system.
- Most people don’t have wills. If you don’t have a will, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone. That can be comforting, but it can also be tragic. Most Americans – 6 in 10 – do not have a will or living trust. Many people put it off because it’s a scary thought. We understand that. But waiting to write a will can do more harm than good. Other people put it off because they’re just not sure where to start.
- You can start at any time. It’s important at any age to get started with a basic will. An experienced attorney can work with you to get the proper documents in order so that you can develop a plan that works for you. You must be 18 to make a while, but as soon as you’re a legal adult, you should consider having a will.
- You can change your will at any time. Throughout your life, you’ll experience many changes (marriage, becoming a parent, becoming a grandparent, new jobs, retirement, inheritance, etc.) that may require you to change your will. It is a very simple process that can be done at any time.
- You can write your own will … on a napkin, if you want. While we would advise against this, the state of Tennessee allows people to write their own wills that don’t even need to be notarized to be valid. But do you really want to leave something this important up to chance? We’ve seen and heard of cases where people had several wills written at different times, filed away in desk drawers or cabinets. This can result in fights among family and a drawn-out judicial process.
- You must be capable of making a will. You’ve likely heard the phrase “of sound mind and body.” This means that someone with severe dementia, for example, may not be able to make a will, or make changes to that will without it later being contested in court. This is another reason to write your will as soon as possible.
- You should appoint an executor. Executors are in charge of settling debts, canceling payments, distributing property and inheritances, and working with attorneys to administer the estate. It will be an executor’s responsibility to carry out your last wishes. The executor will be tasked with handling all matters related to your estate, including making sure the right people get the right items.
- You should appoint a guardian for your children … and your pets. If your children are under 18, you’ll want to outline who should become their guardian and what amount the guardians will receive for their care. If you have pets, you should specify who will take care of your pets — no matter how old they are.
- You can “disinherit” people. Just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean they’re entitled to your assets when you’ve passed away – especially if they were a jerk to you while you were alive. If you decide to disinherit a family member, it should be done under very special circumstances and it would be best done in a living trust rather than a will because a living trust is private and more difficult to challenge in court.