Do you need a will? Do you need to hire an attorney to draft your will? The short answers are no and no. The long answers are a bit tougher, but here is a bit of advice to help you figure them out for yourself.
First, a proper estate plan will include a will or trust, as well as your selection of someone to make medical and financial decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. Second, a will only covers property you own in your own name. Assets covered by beneficiary designations or held in joint tenancy (typically how couples own their home) are not controlled by a will. At your death they will transfer to the beneficiary or survivor no matter what your will says.
A will lets you select guardians for minor children and to appoint a personal representative. The personal representative’s job is to collect and protect your assets, pay your bills, file your tax returns and distribute your estate.
There is no requirement that that you have a will. But, you may want one. If you die without a will, the state has a plan to distribute your assets after you die. The good news for non-planners is that your estate, if married, will go to your spouse. If you are not married and die without a will, your estate will pass to your children, or if you have no children to your closest relatives. However, if you or your spouse have children by a prior relationship, it gets complicated as to who gets what.
You may want a will if: 1) your net worth is more than $50,000; 2) if you have minor children; 3) if your family life is complicated, 4) if you own real estate, and 5) if you have special wishes as to who gets what from your estate.
At what point do you need a will? That’s a personal decision, but as your wealth, family and personal life gets more complex a will or some sort of estate plan becomes the more responsible choice. It’s also typically quicker and less expensive for your surviving loved ones if you leave some guidance for them and the probate court.
Do you need an attorney to help you prepare a will? No, but your chances of having your wishes realized are greater when you hire one. Can you prepare your own will with free or inexpensive software? If you can easily read, understand and follow legal questions and instructions - you may be able to find and use a quality will generating program. Of course, your chances for a good result are better if your financial affairs, family and personal preferences are relatively simple.
One important reason to be wary of do it yourself will software is that there are no do overs. If you buy Turbo tax and don’t understand the questions, or enter wrong data, you get to do it over. You can amend and refile. But if you’re dead you’re dead.
Do you need a will and legal help to draft it? No simple answers. But, as your life, family and financial picture becomes more complex, you may want a will and help drafting it. Most estate planning attorneys offer a free initial consultation to help you understand the law. Your job at that meeting is to help the attorney understand your family, your assets and your wishes. After the meeting they typically can give you options and estimate costs.
Rick Jensen, Attorney
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA members meet to learn, exchange information and discuss issues in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA and local senior resources, please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org.