Outside of the Addams family, most of us probably don't *love* thinking about what will happen when we die. But it's still a part of life, and no matter your age, it's important to think about it and plan for it.
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Personally, I'm pushing 36, and while I don't have kids or significant assets like a house or car, I've been wondering if I should put a plan in place just in case. That way if something happened to me, my will would make handling all the logistics a little easier on my loved ones. And not gonna lie, as a very obsessed cat lady, it would make me weirdly happy to know that my cat-sons will always be taken care of.
So to find answers to all of my burning questions about wills, I reached out to Ebony Ruffin, a life insurance expert and the founder and managing member of Ruffin Consulting Services.
1.In the past, I thought that you didn't really need a will until you have kids, reach a certain age, or build up a level of wealth, but Ebony Ruffin says that's not the case. "If you are living, you need a will and life insurance," she explains. "Just that simple."
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"Often in life, people will talk themselves out of both due to misconceptions of cost, worthiness to have either, or just lack of understanding. A will and life insurance are necessary components to living a responsible life."
FYI, a will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for how your stuff gets divided up after you die, names guardians for any minor children, and may also include details about your desired funeral arrangements. And life insurance is a policy that pays out an agreed-upon amount at the time of your death, which can really come in handy if you leave behind any debts or for covering funeral costs.
2.And you don't have to hire a fancy lawyer to make your will. If your situation is pretty straightforward, it's OK to write it yourself.
3.Not sure if you should DIY? Ruffin suggests, "It is a good exercise to start with writing your wishes in detail, signing, and having the appropriate witnesses sign as well."
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"Then continue to do research to determine if there are pro bono services available or if you should proceed with an online service or estate planning attorney."
According to Investopedia, it typically costs between $300 and $1,000 to have a lawyer draft your will. On the other hand, you can make a will using a guided service like Legalzoom starting at $89, or if you feel confident you can write your own in Google Docs or even jot it down by hand for free. Just make sure you get the right number of witnesses to sign it when you're done.
4.Speaking of witnesses, you generally need two people to witness and sign your will.
5.Ready for the most surprising thing I learned? Ruffin says that "preparing to create your will can actually be a fun process."
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Wait, what??? She explains, "Think of it this way: You are taking inventory on your life and all that you have accomplished and deciding how you want your hard-earned assets to be managed or cared for after you die. The process doesn't have to be daunting or sad but more of a confident decision that you are proactively in control of your financial planning and generational wealth." When you look at it that way, it actually doesn't seem so bad after all.
6.Whether you write your own will or hire a pro, you'll want to gather all your personal info and make a list of everything that will need to be resolved after you die.
7.Including any debts you may have in your will makes it easier for your executor to handle your estate.
8.Being the executor of a will can be a big task, so be thoughtful and have a talk with the person you want to choose before you write them into your will.
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"The executor of the will has one of the most important responsibilities of the will. The executor, according to the terms of the will, must distribute assets to beneficiaries and satisfy debts," says Ruffin. When you're thinking about who to pick, Ruffin suggests someone close to you either through friends or family who's responsible and trustworthy. And since being an executor can be a pretty time-consuming responsibility, it's a good idea to have a conversation with the person who you choose to make sure they're up for the job.
But you might want to have a back-up executor too. "Wills are often created and forgotten. It can be easy to have named an older responsible friend or family member to be the executor and perhaps years later the older executor has passed away. This is where a successor executor that is younger than the executor can be beneficial to carrying out the wishes of the will." If you don't have a backup in mind right now, that's OK. You can also make changes later on in life.
9.If you have kids under 18, you'll need to name a guardian for each of them.
10.If you want to leave pet care instructions or set aside cash for their kibble, take note that legally your pets are property, which means they can't *directly* inherit.
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Ruffin says, "Naming a piece of property as beneficiary to property can cause confusion when executing a will. It is important to properly plan for the care of your pet after your death. There are several ways this can be done through a pet trust and [by] including specific care instructions for your pet in the will. A will typically will include a pet clause to help easily provide instructions for the care of your pet." So I can't leave my vet bill savings account to my cats directly, but at the very least I can write a plan for their care, just in case.
11.And if there's a charitable organization you feel strongly about, you might consider leaving something to them too.
12.You'll probably need to update your will at some point, like if you have a child, buy a house, or need to appoint a new executor.
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Before you start updating, Ruffin says it's a good idea to check your state's laws to make sure you update your will properly. And if you're unsure, seeing a lawyer can be really helpful. When it comes to making the updates, Ruffin says there are three main ways that people add to or change their wills. "First, you can create an entirely new will to replace the old will. The key step is to ensure the old will is revoked and no longer valid and the new will is properly signed, witnessed, and fully executed."
"The second way is known as a codicil. A codicil is defined as an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one. To properly use a codicil to update a will, seek the help of an estate-planning attorney."
"A third option to updating a will is most seen for handwritten wills, which is called an amendment. The existing will can be updated by hand but must be signed, and the witnesses of the original will must be the same witnesses for the amendment. To ensure your will fully represents your wishes, try to review your will annually for any necessary changes."
13.Finally, if you die without a will, then it will be up to probate courts to decide how to divide up your belongings among family members based on intestacy laws, which vary state to state.
Have you made a will before, or are you currently in the process of putting one together? Tell us your most helpful tips in the comments!
And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.