I Don't Need a Will....Do I?
Updated: May 29, 2021
Less than half of Americans have a will. Reasons range from “I don’t want to think about my death,” to “I haven’t gotten around to it,” to “I’d rather spend my money on something more fun.” While those reasons are all valid, here are the top five reasons to not put off writing your will any longer:
If you have children, having a will is a must. Your will names guardians of your minor children. You are much better off making this decision than leaving it to a court to decide. A will also allows you to direct how your children should receive their inheritance and who should manage it. Even an inheritance which you may not think is a lot of money may seem like a fortune to an 18 year old. A well-drafted will can ensure that your children are cared for, and your assets are passed on in an appropriate fashion.
If you are going through a divorce or have been divorced, there is another level of complication with planning your estate. How should assets be divided between a second spouse and children from a first marriage? What happens if you are separated, but not yet divorced? Would a second spouse have any custodial rights over previous children? Even if a divorce does not include children, there are still a number of issues to consider in your estate planning.
Let’s hope you are worth tens of millions of dollars and have to worry about paying federal estate taxes. But, even if you are not at the 2020 threshold of $11.58 million, there could be tax consequences to your estate, particularly if you are single. While Pennsylvania doesn’t place a tax on money left to a spouse or charity, it does tax assets left to others. Proper estate planning can minimize the amount of tax that those who inherit from you will have to pay.
Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance
Any asset for which you’ve filled out a beneficiary form -- like an IRA, a 401k or a life insurance policy -- is inherited based on what is written on the form, not your will. This makes coordination between these documents and your will essential. Ensuring that all of your assets are managed in unison is a key principle of good estate planning.
Other Estate Planning Documents
Along with a will, your estate plan will typically include a Financial Power of Attorney and an Advanced Healthcare Directive. The Financial Power of Attorney gives permission to another to handle your finances in the event that you are unable to do so, and provides direction based on your wishes. An Advanced Healthcare Directive is your opportunity to make your desires known about end of life healthcare decisions and identifies the person or people who should make decisions on your behalf. It goes without saying that these documents are just as important as your will.
Whether you are a single 25 year old, a married couple with two kids, or a recently divorced parent, do yourself a favor and complete your estate planning.
Andy Gavrin, Esq. is an estate planning attorney. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Wharton School of Business, and Cornell University, he lives in Villanova with his three daughters, and serves as Vice President of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners. Contact him about your estate plan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 484.416.5740. The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. Note that information may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.