August is “National Make-A-Will Month,” and if you have already prepared a will, congratulations—too few Americans have taken this first step in the estate planning process. In fact, only 33% of Americans have created a will, according to Caring.com's 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.
Yet, while having a will is important—and adults should at a minimum have this document in place—for all but a few people, creating a will is just one small part of an effective estate plan that works to keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. With this in mind, here we look at exactly what having a will in place will—and will not—do for you and your loved ones in terms of estate planning.
What A Will Does
A will is a legal document that outlines your final wishes in regards to how your assets are distributed to your surviving family members. Here are some of the things having a will in place allows you to do:
Choose how assets are divided upon your death:
A will's primary purpose is to allow you to designate how you want your assets divided among your surviving loved ones upon your death. If you die without a will, state law governs how your assets are distributed, which may or may not be in line with your wishes.
However, as we'll discuss more below, a will only allows you to provide for the distribution of certain types of assets—namely, a will only covers assets owned solely in your name. Other types of assets, such as those with a beneficiary designation and assets co-owned by you with others, are not affected by your will.
Name an executor:
In your will, you can name the person or persons, you want to serve as your executor, sometimes called a “personal representative.” Following your death, your executor is responsible for wrapping up your final affairs. This includes numerous responsibilities, including filing your will with the local probate court, locating and managing all of your assets, paying off any debts you have outstanding, filing and paying your final income taxes, and finally, distributing your remaining assets to your named beneficiaries.
Name guardians for your minor children:
Fortunately, whether you've named guardians for your kids in a will or have yet to take any action at all, you've come to the right place. At The Robinson Advocacy Group, we have been trained by the author of the best-selling book, Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly, and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents, on legal planning for the unique needs of families with minor children.
As a result of this training, we offer a comprehensive system known as the Kids Protection Plan®, which is included with every estate plan we prepare for families with young children. While you should meet with us to put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place as soon as possible, protecting your children is such a critical and urgent issue, we've created a totally free website, where you can get your plan started right now.
⇒ If you've yet to take any action at all, visit this FREE website, where you can take the first steps to create legal documents naming long-term guardians for your children to ensure that should anything happen to you prior to creating your estate plan, your kids would be cared for by the people you would want in the way you would want. Get started here now: https://therobinsonadvocacygroup.kidsprotectionplan.com/
After you've completed those initial actions, schedule a Life and Legacy Planning Session with us, so we can put the full Kids Protection Plan® in place, and determine if there is anything else your family might need to ensure the well-being and care of your children.
Serve as a backup for a living trust:
Because it can be difficult to transfer the legal title to every single one of your assets into a revocable living trust before your death, most trusts are combined with what's known as a “pour-over” will. This type of will serves as a backup to a living trust, so all assets not held by the trust upon your death are transferred, or “poured,” into your trust through the probate process.
A Small—But Important—First Step
As you can see here, having a will in place only gives you a limited amount of power over the distribution of certain assets, but that doesn't mean you should go without one. Without a will, you would have no say in who inherits your assets when you die, and everything you own could even go to the state.
But worse than that, your surviving loved ones will be the ones who have to clean up the mess you've left behind. And they will have to handle all of this while grieving your death. Instead, you should see your will as an important first step in the estate planning process—one that works best when integrated with a variety of other legal vehicles, such as trusts, powers of attorney, and advance healthcare directives.
Next week, in part two, we'll detail all of the things that your will does not do, and then we'll outline the different estate planning tools that you should have in place to make up for these potential blind spots in your estate plan. Until then, if you need to get your estate planning started or you would like us to review your existing estate plan to see if you are missing anything, contact us.