Did you know that according to a recent survey, almost two-thirds of all Americans don't have a will? The future is full of uncertainties, but knowing how you want your final wishes to be carried out doesn't have to be one of them. To demystify estate planning and learn how to create a will, our Waukesha County estate planning attorneys are here to raise awareness and provide information on the importance of creating a will.
What is a Will?
A will, also commonly known as a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. Essentially, a will is a legal document that lets you decide what happens with your estate after you die.
There is a common misconception that only wealthy people or those with complicated assets need wills. However, there are several reasons to create a will, including:
- Decide who gets your assets and property as well as who does not
- Determine who will manage your estate
- Name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
- Name a personal representative, which is who will be the person to make sure that the terms of your will are carried out
- Lower the potential for family disputes
- Appoint someone to manage your medical care and health care decisions if you become incapacitated or cannot make these decisions on your own
- Name a trusted friend or family member to take care of your pet
- Provide end of life and funeral instructions
- Gives your loved ones an easy map to follow after you pass, which can provide you with peace of mind
The important thing to take away is that having a will in place ensures that your final wishes are carried out once you are gone.
When Should I Create a Will?
Although planning your estate and listing out your assets depends on your situation and whether you feel you have assets you would like to pass down, the sooner you create a will, the better prepared you will be.
This is true even for those who are only 18 years old. While young adults may not have acquired a significant amount of assets, their parents lose the right to make medical or financial decisions for them. They no longer have the authority to make medical decisions or access financial records just because they are their parent. Parents can help ensure this does not occur by encouraging their children that are over the age of 18 to create an estate plan, which provides guaranteed peace of mind for a very small price.
Overall, remember it's never too early to start planning how assets will be distributed. Take control and start now with help from one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.
What Happens if I Die Without a Will?
If you die without a will, you are considered to have died "intestate". When intestate succession occurs, Wisconsin state laws determine how your property is to be distributed.
The estate will go through probate, and beneficiaries will be decided based on the law. Typically, this gives your property to your closest relatives. First, your spouse and children will be awarded your property. If you do not have a spouse or children, then the state will give your property to whomever your closest relative is. Typically, the order they will go through is as follows:
- Grandchildren or parents
- Aunts and uncles
- Nieces and nephews
If the court finds that you have no living relatives through blood or marriage, the state will take your property. Therefore, in order to ensure that your final wishes are taken care of and executed how you want, it's crucial to put a will in place.
What You Need to Prepare for Creating a Will
While writing a will may seem like a daunting task, the process is relatively straightforward once you have all the information and documents you need. Here is a checklist of essential information you need to create your will:
- List out assets: Start by making a list of all of the significant assets that you want to leave to your loved ones. A good rule of thumb is to start with big items like your home, family business, and vehicles, then work your way down to smaller items like family heirlooms, jewelry, and art.
- Account for all your debt: While you won't be leaving your debts to anyone in your will, it's helpful to have an idea of your estate's overall financial status. That way, you can plan accordingly regarding funeral expenses, probate costs, and taxes.
- Choose your beneficiaries: Think about who among your loved ones you would like to inherit your property. At this point, you don't need to specify who will receive what, but rather you should focus on what people you want to be involved.
- Appoint an executor: You should state who you want your executor to be, which is essentially a personal representative that will handle your estate and ensure the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Be sure to consult with your executor to make sure they are up to the task and willing to accept this responsibility.
- Name a guardian: If you have minor children, you need to decide who you want to care for them in the event that you pass away and their other parent is, for some reason, unable to care for them. Additionally, you might want to consider leaving someone else in charge of any property they will inherit until your child is of legal age.
- Gather witnesses: To finalize a will in Wisconsin, there are two requirements. 1. You must sign or acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses. 2. Your witnesses must sign the will within a reasonable time after you have signed or acknowledged your will.
Once you have this information, you can start working with your estate planning attorney to begin the process of creating your will.
Speak to a Waukesha Estate Planning Attorney Today
Estate planning can benefit everyone, no matter how old they are, in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it allows you and your family to make important decisions before the time comes when they're needed. Even if you do not think that you need a will, you should consult with a Waukesha County estate planning attorney from The Law Offices of Mark S. Knutson, S.C. regarding your specific situation to discuss how a will could benefit you.
Need assistance with creating a last will and testament? Call (262) 205-0705 to schedule a consultation with our team today.