Updated: Jun 29, 2019
According to a survey recently conducted by Caring.com, a senior living resource company, 76% of respondents agreed that having a will is important but less than half of Americans surveyed actually have one in place. The surveyors also noted that the top reason given for not having a will is simply not having gotten around to creating one yet. Not surprisingly, the older someone is the more likely they are to have a will. For younger individuals, it can be easy to want to put this off but having a will in place is a crucial part of effective financial planning and should be an essential document for anyone if not the stepping stone towards more effective and detailed estate planning.
Regardless of how much wealth you consider yourself to have, having some sort of legal document in place that designates how your wealth should be inherited should be important to you. In the absence of such a document, the recipients of your wealth may very well end up being decided by the state without regard for your wishes should you pass unexpectedly. When it comes to estate planning, there are a few things to keep in mind, namely, what are you trying to accomplish.
If you're in the early stages of your wealth accumulation and just want to cover the basics, a simple will should do the trick. While there are templates available on the internet, it can be very worthwhile to consult a professional. You will have to pay more in fees, but have an estate attorney draft a document on your behalf will help ensure that your wishes are met in a manner that follows the laws in your state (how assets are inherited is governed on the state level). In addition to having a will in place, it's also a good idea to review your beneficiaries on any financial accounts that you may have, particularly retirement accounts. You want to make sure that your beneficiaries are up to date and that the way you have listed them will result in the proper distribution of your assets. One mistake that is easy to avoid is making sure to name all beneficiaries and not just one with the expectation that they will divvy up the account. Not only is it possible that they ignore your wishes and keep the account for themselves, but if they do end up divvying up the account they could incur substantial taxes resulting in a lesser amount being received by your beneficiaries. Instead, it is much more efficient to name all of the beneficiaries in the percentage and manner you wish them to inherit the assets.
If you're in the later stages of wealth accumulation and have built up a substantial amount of assets or have dependents that you'd like to make sure are provided for, it would be beneficial to engage with a professional and spend a little more energy on making sure you have an adequate plan in place. Depending on your situation, it may be helpful to create a trust to place your assets in that will not only help you avoid probate - the potentially costly and time consuming legal process of proving out your will - but a trust can also include provisions for guardianship and how you'd like your medical decisions to be made in the event you are incapacitated. It's important to make sure that once the trust has been created, you title your assets in the name of the trust. Otherwise, those assets will not be governed by the provisions of the trust and all that work will have been for not.
When it comes to estate planning, it is advisable that you consult a professional who can work with the rest of your financial team to make sure that your financial objectives are being met in the most efficient manner possible. At Sherwood FP, we believe that having a good financial advisor can have a legitimate impact on your bottom line and we seek to be a firm constantly searching for ways to increase our Advisor Alpha – both tangibly and intangibly. Wherever you’re at in your journey, we’d love to partner with you to help you find lasting peace when it comes to your finances.
"2019 Survey Finds That Most People Believe Having a Will Is Important, but Less Than Half Have One." Caring.com. 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019. https://www.caring.com/caregivers/estate-planning/wills-survey/.