What is a Will (and Why do I Need One)?
Imagine this scenario. You are married, but your spouse has passed away. You are 75 years old. You have two kids, Jack and Jill.
Jill is a great person. College graduate. Married. Has kids of her own. Has a career. You talk to her every week and visit at least three times a year.
Jack, on the other hand, is not so great. He was always the wild one, and after years of trying to help him out you cut him off financially. There were just too many instances of him using the money you gave him to buy more drugs.
For whatever reason, you start thinking about what’s going to happen to your family when you die. You want to make sure everyone is taken care of, but you don’t want your hard earned money to be snorted up someone’s nose.
You’ve heard you might need a will for this, but aren’t sure if it’s worth the trouble of putting one together. Won’t the family just honor your wishes when you pass and distribute the money like you want?
What is a Will?
The definition of a will is pretty simple. It is simply a document that explains how you want all of your stuff to be distributed when you die.
It essentially gives you the ability to make sure your wishes are carried out after you are gone. It tells whomever you put in charge of your stuff (the executor) whom to give your stuff too.
To create a valid will in Washington State (the location of the creator of this article) you need these things:
- You must be 18 or older;
- You must be of sound mind;
- It must be in writing;
- It must be signed by you; and
- It must be signed by two witnesses
One important thing to note: a will in Washington State does not need to be notarized.
The signature of the person making the will and the two witnesses is enough to make it valid.
One other important thing to note. You don’t need any special language or anything like that to create a will. You just need to call it your will and then direct where you want your stuff to go.
Why is a Will Important
A will is important for a few different reasons.
Without a Will You Have No Say Where Your Stuff Goes
Let’s go back to our example from above. If you don’t have a will it is very likely (like 100% likely) that Jack is going to get half of your wealth.
That means half of everything you worked so hard for is likely to be squandered away on drugs.
The reason this is so is that when you don’t have a will and you die the way your stuff is divided up is through a process called intestacy.
Intestacy is simply the way the state has decided people’s things should be divided up when they don’t have a will. Said another way, if you don’t create a will the state does it for you and they distribute all of your stuff how they think it should be distributed.
Without a Will You Can’t Choose Who Gets What
If you have any prized possessions or family heirlooms it’s likely they will be sold so the cash from them can be distributed.
And, if you wanted something to go to a person specifically, there’s no certainty that that will happen.
So, not only will Jack get half of your wealth, he may get the things that are most important to your family and its legacy. If you’ve got something that has been handed down for generations you want to make sure it gets in the right hands.
A will can do that for you.
A Will is Critical to Your Protecting Your Family
The great thing about wills is that they are not expensive to create. In fact, I just told you how you can create one on your own, for free.
What is expensive, and sad, is if you don’t take the time to write out where you want your stuff to go, whether you are 35 or 75. We never know when we’re going to leave this Earth, and there’s a lot of comfort in knowing you’ve taken care of your family should tragedy strike.
P.S. Do you have kids? Have you completed guardianship paperwork? Have you done it correctly? Click here to find out what happens if you don’t do anything: Are you okay with a judge choosing the guardians of your children?
P.P.S. Do you own a business? Do you have a plan so the business, and your family, can survive if something happens to you? If not, click here to learn how simple it is to protect your business and your family from tragedy: 5 Ways to Protect Your Business from Catastrophic Failure.
P.P.S. Do you have no kids and think you don’t need an estate plan? Single and think a will is only for married couples. You couldn’t be more wrong. Click here to learn more: 5 reasons estate planning is a must have even if you don’t have kids.
Christopher Small is a Kirkland estate planning attorney who helps people get rich and live forever. He is also the owner of CMS Law Firm LLC.