The Importance Of Having A Will

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.

Dying Intestate

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?

25 comments to The Importance Of Having A Will

  • We took care of this recently after having our son. Over Christmas a family member passed away intestate and we got a first hand glance at how much more difficult a process taking care of his estate will be. We don’t have any very special requests or special property that needs to go to specific people- we want it all to go to our kid(s) but not taking care of the will would make things very difficult for our family at an already difficult time!

    • To be honest this is the last thing on our financial to-do list. We need to get it done pronto now that we’re parents.

      The other thing about the will is that you can designate who takes care of your kids if you pass. This was a really big decision for us and not an easy one.

  • I don’t have a will, and I definitely won’t be getting one until I have kids – after all, I dont have many assets to pass down – but I think it’s definitely necessary for those with kids. That and life insurance.

  • This is something we have been dragging our feet on. I tried to use a will kit when I was 9 months pregnant, and I started crying while filling out all of the forms as to who could make the decision to pull the plug if I was on life support, etc., and I am ashamed to admit I never went back to it. Now that baby is nearly 2 years old, so I have no excuse. Thank you for the push.

  • We recently got a will done and I guess I’m glad we did. We kind of rushed the process though because we were going on a trip together for the first time since our daughter was born and the possibility of something happening to use both while we were gone motivated us.

    We sure paid a lot more than $100 each though but didn’t shop around. I died a little inside when I paid the bill :(

    • I recall our discussion on wills – and still don’t have ours done! I think I mentioned we thought a will would cost us over $500 … if not $1000. I guess expect the big number and hunt for a better rate. Seems like a topic for your site SM! ;)

    • Nelson Smith

      I got mine done for about $200, and I live in a small town with only 3 lawyers. I’ve seen ads in the big city nearest to me (Calgary) offering the service for $100.

      Maybe I just got a smoking deal?

  • It felt weird but I recently took care of that after moving in with my bf and buying an apartment together. We are not married and have no kids but we both now have a will that among other things states what happens with our respective halves of the apartment and the mortgage. I think many people underestimate how important that is.

  • I agree it is very important. Most people don’t have it. It is uncomfortable to think through, yet if anyone lives long enough, death is naturally going to occur. Thanks for highlighting it, even though it not one of my favorite subjects.

  • Super Frugalette

    It is so important to have a guardian for your children too. We elected to have a guardian since so many people divorce and remarry, we wouldn’t to have to keep changing who should raise our kids.

  • As was pointed out to me in a post on another site, I’m terrible at dying. I can’t die because I’m too unprepared for it. I have nothing, not even a will. And I have a kid!

    Every year I put “get a will” on my financial to-do list yet I never actually do it. Maybe I’m secretly hoping that if I don’t do it, I won’t die…

  • Remember only those assets that are not controlled by deed or beneficiary status are subject to the laws of intestacy (or will for that matter) – so DOUBLE CHECK your bene statuses lol

  • In Alberta the DIY Kits need to be notarized as well, which can cost about $60.

    I need to get this done for my husband and I. It is just the two of us and I was in a panic until I read about how an estate is distributed in Alberta if a person dies without a will. It is pretty simple and exactly the way we will word our Will anyways. My biggest thing is providing for our cats. If a person is not into pets, they may not understand my point, but we have 2 cats and I worry what would happen to them if we both went at the same time.

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