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August Is Make-a-Will Month

Pen, stamp and documents on notary public table

A will can be one cornerstone of a comprehensive state strategy. Yet too often, we find that some clients have overlooked the need to update their will while others have avoided creating one in the first place.

In fact, only 32% of Americans have a will. That’s a 6% drop from 2023–which was the first drop since 2020, according to Caring.com, a leading online destination for family caregivers seeking information. The number one reason cited for not creating a will: procrastination.1

Dying without a will means you are “intestate,” leaving estate decisions to the probate court. Every state applies its own “intestate” laws to determine who your heirs are and how to distribute your assets.

 “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.”  Hebrews 9:16,17

August is National Make-a-Will Month, a reminder to be proactive with your estate management. It’s a good time to consider checking up on your will, making certain that it’s readily accessible and compliments the other documents that are part of your strategy.

Your Will: Take Advantage of the Benefits, But Know the Limits2

A will is a powerful estate management tool. Here’s a short list of the items a will can and can’t do when creating an estate strategy.

What a will can do:
What a will can’t do:
Determine where your property will go
Avoid probate court.
Protect a beneficiary who can’t handle their own finances
Reduce any estate taxes due on your estate
Select a guardian for minors (children)
Give beneficiaries direct access to any funds you’ve left. Instead, a will names an executor to collect and distribute funds.
Select an executor to tend to your estate after you are gone
Outline funeral or memorial instructions. A better to include this information is in a letter of instruction
Identify what will happen to your pets and who will care for them

Here’s are just a couple of reasons to consider revisiting your will.

  1. If you haven’t read through your will for a while: No timeframe should determine when is a good time to revisit your will. Some people say you should do it every year. Others will suggest every five years. But for most people, the best time to review your will is any time you are uncertain about what it includes or how it handles certain items.
  2. If a major life event has taken place in your family: Weddings, the birth of a child, and divorce are some of the most common life events that prompt people to revisit their will. Similarly, if your named executor dies, it may be best to update your will.

 

As Mick Owens writes in his popular book, Diamond of Life: The Five P’s of Success and Significance. “Prudent (estate) planning requires other legal documents, some of which are state specific.” He points out that other key documents, in addition to your will, can help you develop your overall estate strategy.

When working with families to create an estate strategy, we will also evaluate other documents, including whether a trust can play a role in your overall approach. While the answer can be “yes” in some situations, we encourage people to ask questions about the features, benefits, and limitations of a trust, and to work with a legal professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.

So as the calendar turns to August, it might  mark a good time to take a look at your will. If you’d like us to review your will, or any other estate documents, please let us know. We’re happy to help.

  1. Caring.com, 2024
  2. TheVirtualAttorney, 2024. Original created in 2017

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