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Updated on Wednesday, January 20, 2016
There are a few important steps in building your financial foundation that aren’t much fun to talk about.
Writing a will is right at the top of that list.
It’s obviously a morbid topic, and it’s also a step that can force you to have some difficult conversations with family members. No one likes thinking about what would happen if they die.
But it’s important precisely because it’s such a tough topic. If you don’t handle it now, all of those difficult and confusing decisions are going to be left up to other people. That could not only result in outcomes you wouldn’t want, but it may cause your family members a lot of stress and conflict.
So in this post we’ll talk about why you want a will, even if you don’t have a lot of money, how to get it handled, and how to have some of those difficult conversations with your loved ones.
The Benefits of Having a Will
The popular perception of a will is that it allows you to determine who gets all of your money and possessions when you die.
And while that is a part of what it’s for, there are other benefits to having a will that have nothing to do with money. That’s especially true if you have children.
Here are four major reasons you want to have a will in place.
1. Naming Guardians
For parents, the biggest reason to create a will is to name guardians for your children if you pass away. You can name primary, secondary, and even tertiary guardians just to make sure that you have all your bases covered.
Without a will, this decision would be made by the courts. Better to take it into your own hands to make sure that your children are always in the best situation possible.
2. Naming Custodians
A will also allows you to name custodians for your children. These are the people who would be in charge of whatever money is left to your children up until they reach adulthood (typically age 18 or 21).
The custodians are often the same as the guardians, but they don’t have to be. In any case, this is another important decision that you’ll want to be in charge of just to make sure that your children’s best interests are considered.
3. Passing Property
Of course, a will also allows you to decide who gets things like money within your savings and investment accounts, your house, and any other personal possessions you’ll be passing along.
4. Keeping the Peace
Without a will in place, all of these decisions would be left to your surviving family members. That’s not only a lot of work to put on their shoulders, but it could be the cause of fighting if people aren’t in 100% agreement about what should happen.
Talking to your family about these decisions ahead of time and being very specific in your will makes the process much easier for everyone when the time comes.
How to Get a Will in Place
There a couple of different ways you can create your will.
One option is to find an estate planning attorney in your area who can walk you through the entire process and get everything in place. Most attorneys will likely charge a couple of hundred dollars for this, though you may be able to get a discount through your employee benefits program.
There are two big reasons to consider using an attorney:
- If your situation is relatively complicated, such as having significant savings and investments, owning businesses, owning multiple houses, or having gone through a divorce, a lawyer can make sure that all of that is accounted for correctly.
- A good attorney will not only understand the law, but will take the time to ask about your personal situation and goals, clearly explain all of your options, and help you make the best decisions possible. That kind of guidance and the peace of mind it provides can be worth paying for.
- Your needs are very basic, or
- You’ll be moving to a new state in the near future, meaning you’ll need to get a new will done soon anyways. In that case it may make sense to get it done inexpensively now and pay for an attorney once you’re in the new state.
How to Talk About a Will with Your Loved Ones
Creating a will can bring up some tough conversations with your family members.
If you’re creating your own will, you may have to talk to a spouse about who you would want caring for your children, and there may be some disagreement there. You’ll also have to ask the people you want to be guardians whether they’re willing to do it, and you may run the risk of hurting feelings by not choosing people who would like to be in that position.
But it’s not just your will you need to consider. Many adult children are put into tough situations when their parents either never created a will, never updated it to reflect their changing circumstances over time, or simply never talked about their wishes with their family. That could leave you with the significant responsibility of figuring it all out after the fact, and it could also put you in the tough position of negotiating or arguing with your other family members about what should b done.
So it’s a good idea to talk to your parents about their wills too, just so the entire family can get on the same page and have a plan in place.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you have any of these conversations, to make sure they’re as positive and productive as possible:
- Many people are uncomfortable talking about this subject, for a variety of different reasons. It may take several tries before you’re able to have a meaningful conversation, so expect that going in and be patient.
- Start by asking the other person what they want, rather than talking about what you There’s plenty of time for you to have your say, and in the meantime you can make sure they have the chance to be heard.
- When writing your own will, keep the feelings of your family members in mind but make sure to put the interests of your spouse and/or children first. Putting them in the best position possible is the top priority.
- When talking to your parents about their wills, make sure to get all siblings and other family members involved. Otherwise there could be fights later on because someone feels like decisions were made behind their back.
- Be willing to compromise, especially when it comes to who gets money and/or possessions. These are difficult decisions and it’s better to stay on good terms with the people you love than to get everything you think you’re entitled to.
Creating a will isn’t an easy topic, but it’s an important one for you to address head on both for yourself and with your parents. You will be much better off for having the conversations and for getting things in place.