The Importance of Having a Will – Financial Readiness
If you’re like most people, creating a will is probably not high on your to-do list. Just thinking about your assets and how you will distribute them when you die can be overwhelming. You are not alone — it is estimated that over half of Americans do not have a will.
Gaining peace of mind is an important reason for moving ahead with your will. Once you start the process, it may surprise you how easy it is to put your will in place.
Benefits of creating a will
A will is a part of your legal plan for the distribution of your estate in the event something happens to you. Some of the benefits of having a will include the following:
· Allows you to recommend who will care for your minor children and or children/family members with disabilities
· Permits you to name an executor to administer your estate, pay bills, cancel credit cards and oversee the distribution of your estate
· Enables you to make gifts and donations to designated people and charities, possibly lowering your estate taxes, if any
· Speeds the process versus not having a will, but requires probate to transfer certain property
· Relieves family stress and decisions during an already difficult time
As a service member or military spouse, you should have a will — even if you don’t have children or valuable property — to make sure your wishes are honored if something happens to you. Start by setting up an appointment with an attorney at your legal assistance office who can help you create your will and any associated documents at no cost to you. It’s important to have an attorney help you with your will to avoid any possible challenges that may arise if you create your will yourself.
Having a will in place doesn’t take care of all situations. Here are a few things that a will won’t allow you to do:
· Plan for mental or physical incapacity or disability
· Address property that does not have a separate or sole interest in your name
· Govern assets that go to a beneficiary at your death by contract such as life insurance, joint tenancies with rights of survivorship or beneficiary designations
Prepare information for your will
Check with the legal assistance office to see if they have information about wills you can review and a list of information you need to bring when you meet to discuss preparing your will. This will help you think through the process and prepare for your meeting. Information you may need to provide might include the following:
· Personal information about you and your spouse (if applicable), and children if you have them, such as legal names, birthdates and birthplaces, occupations, address and phone numbers
· Marital status information including date and place of current marriage, previous marriage, marriage contracts, children from previous marriages, etc.
· Your debts or the money you owe and to whom, such as mortgages, loans, promissory notes, etc.
· Your assets including cash and bank accounts/locations, life insurance policies, home and property, pension plans, 401ks, annuities, businesses owned, personal assets, cars, boats, jewelry, furniture and items of sentimental value you want to designate
· Beneficiaries you plan to name, cash requests and amounts, specific personal possessions, alternative beneficiaries, distribution plan if you and your spouse die at the same time, testamentary or other type of trust, etc.
· Representatives you want to represent your interests such as executor, trustee, lawyer and guardian for infant children, their qualifications, relationship and contact information (Have they agreed? Do you have alternatives? Have you considered a trust company or lawyer?)
· Other information such as names and addresses of financial or personal/business advisors, lawyer, trust company, etc.
Reviewing and updating your will
The common recommendation is that you review your will every three to five years or when your life situation changes. As a service member, you should also review each time you move to a new duty station and before you deploy. Take advantage of the no-cost assistance available at your legal assistance office for will reviews and updates.
Examples of life situations that require review:
· Marriage or divorce
· Estate tax law changes
· Decision to change your property distribution
· A birth or death in your family that affects your will
· A large increase or decrease in the value of your property
· Named executor or guardian dies or is unavailable to serve
· State of legal residence change
Learn more and get started
Watch FINRED’s Estate Planning for Service Members, an online webinar that provides overview information about estate planning. Other good sources of information include the FINRED estate planning blog and estate planning fact sheet for more details.
Make a commitment to your peace of mind and your loved ones’ well-being, and schedule your no-cost appointment with your installation’s legal assistance office to start creating your will. You and your family will be glad you did!