Time to write your will

by Joe on February 24, 2010

When a will is mentioned, many people think millionaires, celebrities’, and huge estates; yet others think about death.  The reality is, people who prepare the will actually acknowledge their mortality. They put their ‘earthly house’ in order, so that when they die, or become incapacitated, life will not stop for those who rely on them.  Generally, though, if you die without a written will and leave a spouse and children, your assets will be split between your surviving mate and children depending on the state laws. If you are single with no children, then the state decides who among your blood relatives will inherit your estate.writting a will

What is a will?
A will is a legal document that specifies what somebody wants to happen to his or her property after he or she dies.

Types of Wills
This may vary from state to state but generally, these are the major types of acceptable wills

  1. A –DIY handwritten or holographic will. This will must be completely written in your own handwriting. It must be dated and signed. (Check your state to find out if it is acceptable)
  2. Joint Will- A Joint will is one that two people make together, each leaving all of their property and assets to the other. A Joint Will also stipulates how the assets will be distributed when the second person dies.
  3. A statutory will – is a “fill-in-the-blanks” will form usually provided by the state. It is designed for people with relatively small estates.
  4. A will prepared by a lawyer. A qualified estate planning lawyer can make sure that your will conforms to the sate law.
  5.  A living will is a statement that is typically signed in advance while in good health, that specifies the decisions somebody wishes to be taken or not to be taken about his or her medical treatment in the event of becoming so ill and incapable of communicating.

Who needs a will?
70% of Americans do not have a will. It speaks out about the stigma associated with death.

You need a will –

  • If you have young children child because wills are the best way to transfer guardianship of minors.
  • If you have assets and dependents you need a will
  • If there are things you want done a certain way after you die- you need a will
  • You must be at least 18 years of age to sign a will.

Beginning the process
If you are married both spouses should sit down and talk it through. I understand that it is hard to talk about death especially to your family. In fact it is a taboo in some cultures around the world to talk about death rest you be blamed for inviting death into the community. You will need to talk about what happens if one spouse dies, and what happens (God forbid) if both dies.

  1. You’ll need to nominate or pick a guardian for your child or children. The person that you pick will commit to care for your child or children
  2. Choose an alternate legal guardian to include in your will. He or she will take care of your child in the event that your primary choice is unable to do the job.
  3. Appoint an executor to administer your will when you die, and spell out specifically how you want your property distributed.

Personal information you need to prepare a will
List the amounts of all debts, may include but not limited to:

  • Mortgages,
  • Car loans,
  • Student loans,
  • Business loans,
  • Promissory notes,

A list of assets, with detailed information – may include but not limited to:

  • Real estate
  • Savings (bank accounts, CDs, money markets)
  • Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs)
  • Life insurance policies  and annuities
  • 401(k), and IRA retirement accounts
  • Life insurance policies 

Copies of related legal documents- may include but not limited to:

  • Existing wills,
  • Trusts,
  • Divorce decrees,
  • Prenuptial agreements 
  • Other legal documents that might affect a will.
  • Cars, boats, planes and other vehicles

Items not covered by the will
According to California state bar, your will affects only those assets that are titled in your name at your death. Those assets that are not affected by your will include:

  • Life insurance. The cash proceeds from an insurance policy on your life are paid to whomever you have designated as beneficiary of the policy.  
  • Retirement plans. Assets held in retirement plans, such as a 401(k) or an IRA, are transferred to whomever you have named as beneficiary in the plan documents
  • Assets owned as a joint tenant with right of survivorship
  • “Transfer on death” or “pay on death.” Certain securities and brokerage accounts include a designation of one or more beneficiaries to receive the assets in that account when the account owner dies. The names of the beneficiaries are preceded by the words “transfer on death” or “TOD.” Other assets, such as bank accounts and U.S. savings bonds, may be held in a similar form using the owner’s name and the beneficiaries’ names preceded by the words “paid on death” or “POD.”
  • Living trusts. Generally, assets held in a revocable living trust are distributed according to the instructions in the trust regardless of the instructions in your will-with no need for court supervision.

Things to remember know

  1. You can edit and change your will. In fact you should review your will periodically. If it is not up to date when you die, the last valid copy holds true.
  2. You may also establish a new will and, in doing so, revoke your old will.
  3. If you do not appoint an executor of your will, the state will have to appoint one when you die.
  4. Find about the tax liability for your beneficiaries and make informed decisions

 Death Wisdom
“…. It is appointed for man to die once and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27)

The big question is not when you will die- but are you ready to face your maker when you die?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

David Hoag February 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

There are two things I would like to mention in addition to what you have already stipulated. Many people don’t realize that 1) their estate is subject to taxes upon their death, and 2) their estate will be tied up in probate for some time until debts are settled. The easiest and least expensive means of protecting the estate for the heirs and providing for the continuity of income is life insurance.

David Hoag


Lakita (PFJourney) February 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Good advice! There is a stigma attached to wills…but it is better for us to decide what happens to our assets than someone else.

There is only a myth that only the very rich need a will, but as you demonstrated, a will can protect the wishes of anyone.

What do you think about DIY Will kits that you can purchase like a template and fill in, vs hiring a lawyer?


Joe February 24, 2010 at 6:27 pm

@ Lakita, i think that the DIY template that you can purchase and fill in is a great place to start for anyone, and as your estate grow, you can consinder legal counsel. In this case you do not have to incur attorney’s fee, all you need is have it notarized.
But if you are talking huge estate, i recomend legal service.

@Ariel You are welcome !
We’ve never talked about the will with my wife since we got married almost two years now- until this past weekend when we visited our friends. I thought it was a great discussion hence the post. We will be getting a DIY will completed before the end of next week.

@ David, you are right on!


Ariel February 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm

For some reason I have been dragging my feet on this. I know I want to, its high on my list, but I haven’t finished it. I think what’s getting me is having to get it notarized. I don’t know why, but its one of the hardest things to make myself do financially. Thanks for the reminder 🙂


Financialbondage February 25, 2010 at 10:46 pm

I always thought wills tied things up in probate and therefore were bad. Dave Ramsey says they are good. I honestly need to learn more about them.


Joe February 26, 2010 at 8:38 am

@financialbondage, there many myths associated with wills. You are heading the right direction.. find out more so you can make good solid decison.
We decided that the will shall be part of our financial plan this year and we are working on the DIY will.


Ken February 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Great informative post.


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