For many young couples, creating a will is the last thing on their mind. And truthfully, until a person gets married, owns property, or has children, it is understandable that a young person would place a lower priority on the need to create a will. But as we grow up and take on more responsibilities, we start to realize that it’s not just our grandparents who need a will; your will is an important part of protecting your family and your property – no matter how young you may be.
Unfortunately, a recent article in Yahoo! Finance revealed that only half of Americans with children even bother to create a will. The reasons cited for not creating a will are procrastination, cost, and the belief that they do not need a will because they don’t have enough assets to give away.
But whether we like to admit it or not, dying young is an unfortunate fact of life. And while there are always exceptions, each person leaves behind family members who loved them and a close circle of friends.
That’s why a will is a good idea even if you don’t have a million dollars in the bank, an 85-foot yacht, homes in Aspen and Boca, and more cars than Jay Leno.
So it’s not just seniors who should be making plans for who gets what. Young couples and middle class adults should also make it a point to create a will – especially young and middle class families with children, homes, and a growing list of responsibilities.
Here are four reasons why you should have a will, even if you are under 40, healthy and struggling to make ends meet.
1. Don’t let the state determine your fate
The next time you walk into the grocery store or sit down at your favorite restaurant, take a good look at the people around you. Because if you don’t have a will, those are the people who will decide who should inherit your property. Well, not really. But close. Every state has laws covering the distribution of a person’s assets if the person dies without a will. These inheritance laws vary from state to state, and essentially serve as the default rules for passing property when there is no will. However, it is important to understand that these default laws are a state’s attempt to replicate what a deceased person may have wanted, but they may not be sufficient or acceptable for a particular individual.
2. Stay in charge through your will
You need to create a will if you intend to give some or all of your property to friends or to an unmarried partner.
These days, relationships and family make-ups are as varied as the number of TV channels we all adeptly flip through with our remote controls. As such, there is no carbon copy or cut-and-paste solution to creating an estate plan for those looking to protect their families or avoid probate. Many young couples’ and individuals’ lifestyles and relationships do not fit neatly into how the state determines heirs. Since state inheritance laws favor blood relatives, the wishes of those who would like to leave their assets to friends or non-married partners are roundly ignored. And if no blood relatives can be found, guess who gets your property … the state. Not close friends, long-term partners, or charities.
3. Who’s going to take care of your kids?
Use a will to nominate the person of your choosing as guardian over your minor children.
If you love your children and want to ensure they are raised by someone you trust, you can name that person in your will. In most cases, dying without a will means that your estate must be probated. As part of the probate process, the probate judge is going to appoint a guardian over your minor children. While creating a will may not save you from the probate process itself, the existence of a will, with a clause naming a guardian for your children, is going to be weighed heavily by the probate judge in deciding who to actually appoint in this important role.
4. Protect your digital assets
Your will can include language to ensure your digital assets and social media accounts are handled according to your wishes.
More and more people have multiple accounts online. People access their bank accounts, shop for groceries, share photos, book vacations and blog. The number of people using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, flickr, and Pinterest (to name a few) has exploded in recent years into the hundreds of millions. Not surprisingly, deciding what happens to those accounts when a person dies is becoming a huge issue in our increasingly interconnected digital world. States are even beginning to address this issue in their laws. By including instructions in your will dealing with your online identity, including where you have accounts and where to find your passwords, you are making it that much easier to wrap up your estate.
These are just a few reasons why creating a will is so important for young couples with children, or those who’ve decided that marriage is not for them, for the committed singles content on remaining that way, or for same-sex couples living in a state that does not recognize either same-sex marriage or civil unions.
So while some people might be comfortable entrusting the state to give away their hard-earned assets, raise their children, and manage their online accounts, for other people and young couples, the ultimate freedom is the freedom to decide what happens to their property when they die.
If you are interested in creating a will in Massachusetts, or have questions about needing a will, please contact my office. The initial consultation is free, so you have nothing to lose, and only peace of mind to gain.