Why you need a will

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this blog all summer. I really don’t need to do a news aggregation blog. I don’t have the time for it, and others are doing it very well already, anyway. So I think I’m going to focus on just giving out random bits of advice and insight into how the legal world affects everyday Hoosiers.

In that vein, today’s topic is “Why you need a will.” A lot of people don’t really think estate planning is relevant to them. Maybe they don’t have a family, or a lot of money. But, believe me, it can still be relevant. Here is a list of reasons why your average Hoosier might want to have a will (and other related documents) drafted by a qualified attorney:

  1. Minor children. If you have any minor children, a will can help you specify how you’d like them to be cared for. Who do you want to be the guardian? Do you want all of your assets passed to them now, or put into a trust for when they get older? These are important questions.
  2. Own a business. Do you own your own business, even a small one? How do you want it handled if something happens to you? Who should run it? Who has the requisite knowledge to run it? The proper documents can not only specify who has control of your business if you die or become incapacitated, but can also specify who will manage it on your family’s behalf if you cannot. Perhaps you end up in a coma, and no one in your family knows how to run your business. Wouldn’t it be nice to name someone you trust as manager in your stead?
  3. The worst case scenario. Go ahead and knock on wood, because obviously this doesn’t happen very often, but what would happen if you and your spouse were both killed or incapacitated at the same time, perhaps in the same accident? Who would take care of your children, your property, your business interests? You can set all of that up ahead of time, just in case the worst happens.
  4. Specific bequests. This one might seem obvious, but maybe you want to make sure a certain child gets your house in New Haven, while another certain child gets your prized ’69 Mustang. It’s really easy to set that up and make sure it happens.
  5. Fighting descendants. It’s pretty common for people to expect their descendants to come to some sort of agreement about how to divide personal property. For example, when my father passed, there was no question in my family, despite the lack of a specific bequest, that I’d get to have his prized guitar, since I’m the one who taught him how to play. But what if there had been a disagreement? Often, courts will settled disagreements by simply selling the property and splitting up the money. You don’t have to let that happen. In a will, you can direct your executor (the person you name to represent your estate) to settle disputes and divide property how he or she sees fit if your descendants can’t agree.
  6. Incapacity. We’re not just talking about wills here, despite the title of the post. Other instruments, namely advanced directives, can inform your family and doctors of your medical wishes if you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself. Executing what is called a “durable power of attorney” allows you to specify who can act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You can give that person as many or as few powers as you wish.
  7. Security. This is specifically a reason to talk to an attorney. If you write your own will, even with the help of a service, you have no guarantees. If a mistake is made, your family may not have any legal recourse. A licensed and properly-insured attorney, however, will make sure your documents are drafted correctly, and if your attorney happens to make a mistake, your loved ones will have someone to sue (and if he or she is properly insured, an insurance company to cover it) in order to get the problem solved. Having a lawyer draft a will really doesn’t cost a whole lot more than doing it yourself, in most situations. So why not take advantage of the security that a licensed and insured professional provides?

In short, there are good reasons for everyone to plan ahead in case something should happen to them. And it’s probably more affordable than you think to do so.