And no, I’m not talking about some guy named Will who helps out around the house, either.
Without a doubt, having a will is one of the most important documents you will ever have the privilege of paying a lawyer to prepare for you. For all 3 of you who are living in a cave, a will is the document that gives direction on how to divide up your assets. Typically, your assets are sold in the open market, and the proceeds after any debts are paid are given to whoever is lucky enough to be a beneficiary. A will is a simple document, but so incredibly important. Here’s why.
If you don’t have a will when you kick the bucket, you die intestate. This is not a good thing.
What happens in that situation is the courts get involved. Depending on where you live, the rules are a little different, but are similar enough that all you really need to know is the process. Instead of appointing someone to carry out your will (that person is called the executor) the courts become the executor. Usually the court will just divide your assets according to a certain hierarchy. Your spouse would be first on the list, kids would be second, parents third, and then nieces, nephews, etc.
Here’s the problem with that. Say you have a favorite niece who you’d like to see have some cash if you die. Unless that’s written down somewhere, your cute little niece is going to have trouble getting even a sniff.
Also, depending on the province, your spouse would only be eligible for anywhere from the first $40,000 to $200,000 of your estate, with the rest being eligible to be divided among any children of legal age. This means that without having a will, you really don’t have control of how your estate will be distributed.
Also, the definition of spouse varies from province to province. Let’s assume you’ve left your evil wife, but the divorce isn’t final. (Ladies, feel free to replace ‘wife’ with ‘husband’) You’re so happy that you decide to go skydiving. There’s a bit of a malfunction, and your chute doesn’t open. Without a will, that evil soon to be ex-spouse could be entitled to the majority of your estate, since the divorce isn’t finalized yet. Nobody wants that, now do they?
The Process of Getting One
There’s one of two processes of getting yourself protected by a will. You can either do it yourself or hire a professional.
By doing it yourself, I’m not talking about the back of the napkin technique either. That’s just a bad idea, and is just begging for someone to fight it in court, especially if it leaves a certain family member out of the money. Nobody wants to see their heirs fight it out over the estate.
There are kits you can buy at the store that allow you to write your own will. They’re actually prepared by lawyers, basically they’re fill in the blank forms that make it easy for anyone to do it. Think of them as the mad libs of the will world. Once they’re complete, you generally need two adults to witness the will, and you’re done. The kits can be picked up at all sorts of grocery or office supply stores, all for about $20. They’re not a bad option for the budget watcher.
But ideally, you should go to a lawyer and get them to write up the document. If you shop around a little, you should be able to find a lawyer to draw one up for you for $100 or so, depending on the complexity of the thing. Since lawyers do up wills all the time, they essentially have a cheat sheet that they just fill in the blanks. Most wills aren’t very complex documents. Ideally, you’d store a copy of that in your safety deposit box.
Besides having the security the will has been done right, lawyers also offer other benefits. They will keep a copy of the will for you at their office, meaning there’s a back-up copy just in case you lose your copy somehow. There’s also no arguing when the will is made out by a professional. Sure, somebody can still get mad and sue if they don’t get their fair share, but the chances of that diminish significantly when the document is prepared by a professional. For me, $100 is a small price to pay for piece of mind.
Simply put, if you’re a grown up, you should have a will. Now that you’ve finished reading this post, what are you waiting for?