Have you put off making a will? If so, you’re not alone.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by Caring.com, only 32% of American adults have estate planning documents, such as wills and living trusts, in place.
While preparing a will might not be the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon, it could be the most productive — especially for your heirs.
Without a valid will, your assets could be tied up in probate court for months, possibly years. What’s more, the court will be forced to make decisions that might not conform to your wishes.
Why are so many people reluctant to take this basic, but important, step?
In many cases, it is the result of five common misconceptions:
1. I’m not wealthy enough to need a will
If you consider the value of your car, furniture and other worldly possessions, you might be worth more than you think. Plus, some items might have sentimental value to your heirs and will need to be distributed fairly.
You also can use a will to make legal arrangements, such as naming a guardian for your minor children, that have nothing to do with your wealth.
2. My spouse will inherit everything
Consider children from a previous marriage, and discuss with your attorney how to include them in your estate planning.
Plus, there’s always a chance that you and your spouse could pass away at the same time. If so, the distribution of assets could get tricky.
Also, be aware that assets with a designated beneficiary, such as life insurance, IRAs or 401(k)s, goes to the designated beneficiary. So, check periodically to make sure your beneficiaries are up to date.
3. All my assets are jointly titled
Legal titles, such as joint tenants with right of survivorship, can be helpful when it comes to transitioning financial accounts. In some cases, however, they can make things more complicated, especially if the joint owner also has passed away, and no further instructions have been provided.
4. I don’t have any heirs
If you don’t have any surviving family members, your assets can be put to good use. You can leave them to a trusted friend, to your alma mater or to your favorite charity.
5. I’m not ready to set my final wishes in stone
Updating a will is very common and, because circumstances can change, almost expected. Once the framework is in place, adjustments are relatively easy to make at a modest cost.
Don’t let these common misconceptions keep you from preparing a will. Given the vital role a will plays in distributing your assets, protecting your loved ones and making sure your final wishes are carried out, now is the time to seek out a qualified attorney and make sure you have a legally viable will in place.
Claire Damgaard is an agent with New York Life Insurance Company in Dubuque.