The moment you transition into adulthood marks the ideal time to establish a legal will.
In our effort to provide support, education, and advocacy, SCID Angels would like to share a free and voluntary resource on estate planning through FREEWILL.com. Have you ever thought: “Do I really need a will? It feels kind of creepy to think about that.” If so, you’re not alone. 66% of Americans do not have a valid will.
Spoiler alert: You really do need a will.
If you have a family, especially if your child, your grandchild, or you have medical concerns, it’s even more important to make sure that you create a will for the sake of those you care about.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for the distribution of your assets and the care of your minor children.
For both, young families embarking on their journey and older couples reflecting on their legacy, having a well-constructed will is a cornerstone for ensuring that one’s wishes are honored, and potential problems are preemptively resolved. The importance of having a will spans generations, offering peace of mind, legal clarity, and a smoother transition for loved ones during times of emotional upheaval.
What are the benefits of having a will:
- Protecting Your Loved Ones: A will allows you to state how your assets will be distributed after your passing. For young families, this means ensuring that your children and spouse/partner are provided for in the manner you intend. For older couples, a will can help avoid family disputes and protect the interests of your children if you’ve married a new spouse.
- Designating Guardianship: Parents who pass away without a will relinquish control over their children’s future. Young families can utilize a will to designate a guardian for their children whether there is only one parent or in the unfortunate event that both parents pass away. This helps ensure that your children are cared for by someone you trust and who shares your values.
- Avoiding Intestacy Laws: When you die without a will you are said to have died intestate. Without a will, state intestacy laws take over the distribution of assets, which may not align with your wishes. A will allows you to decide how your assets are divided among beneficiaries, potentially avoiding unnecessary legal battles among family members. If you own property or assets which are only in your name such as a vehicle, a bank account, or land, a legal spouse will still have to go through probate to claim those items. Probate is a court-directed process that helps organize and distribute a person’s belongings and property after they pass away, ensuring everything is given to the right people according to the law. A will makes that process much easier and takes less time.
- Minimizing Estate Taxes: A well-structured will can also help minimize the tax burden on your estate, allowing more of your hard-earned assets to be passed on to your loved ones.
- Preserving Family Harmony: For older couples, a properly drafted will can prevent family conflicts that might arise when dividing assets. Clearly outlining your intentions can mitigate misunderstandings and resentment among heirs.
- Supporting Charitable Causes: A will enables you to leave a lasting impact by designating a portion of your estate to charitable organizations that are close to your heart.
Including a gift to SCID Angels is entirely optional. FreeWill is free and available to you to use regardless of whether you include us in your plans. However, should you include SCID Angels, you leave a lasting legacy by designating assets to the only organization that directly supports SCID families. By leaving a legacy gift not only of cash but also stocks, EFTs, bonds, or other securities you can ensure that SCID Angels continues to be there for the next generation of SCID families.
What can a will do?
A will is the method you use to spell out what you want to happen to your stuff after you are gone.
It can also determine who will have custody of your children if you pass away while they are still minors. When you have a child with medical concerns, this is especially important. Your closest relative may love your child, but they may not be your first choice when it comes to caring for and raising your child. We often say that it helps if a SCID parent is a little OCD. A will is one place where you can really control what will happen to your stuff and can make sure your family has a clear game plan to follow.
A will names an executor to carry out the terms of your will and should be someone trustworthy.
A will can even name a guardian for a beloved pet.
In today’s electronic world, you may want to name a digital executor in your will. This person would be responsible to maintain or delete your digital footprint from social media accounts, email accounts, streaming services, and even banking and financial accounts. You will want to have an up-to-date list of all accounts with login information in a place where this person can access it.
You may want to put into writing your choices concerning a healthcare directive, a financial power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. Who will be allowed to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated? Who will manage your finances and pay your bills if you are incapacitated? This is especially important for those who are not legally married to their partner or who are single.
A will can even let you give gifts or provide a legacy. This includes not only those who wouldn’t otherwise inherit your estate, such as a child you raised but didn’t legally adopt, or a partner to whom you are not legally married, but you can also make gifts to institutions or non-profit groups. This allows you to leave a gift to help future research for a rare disease or support a patient organization such as SCID Angels.
When Is the Right Time for a Will?
The moment you transition into adulthood marks the ideal time to establish a legal will. Given that you can’t take your possessions with you through the proverbial exit door, it’s crucial to create a will now.
The following life events commonly prompt the realization that addressing this matter is imperative:
- Parenthood (or when minor children come of age)
- The passing of individuals mentioned in the will (beneficiaries or executors)
- Relocation to a different state with distinct regulations
- Changes in personal circumstances (family disputes, addiction issues, incapacity, new partners, health challenges, etc.)
- Changes in personal assets
- Shifts in personal preferences
What’s not included in a will?
Certain items pass to specified beneficiaries without direction from a will. These include items that have named beneficiaries associated with them, such as life insurance, some pension plans, and many investment accounts such as a 401K or IRA account or certain trusts. If you’re not sure if you have a named beneficiary for any of these items, you should talk with your plan administrator or agent to be sure.
Those items that already have a named beneficiary will be transferred to that beneficiary upon proof of death of the account owner or policyholder. The beneficiary will not have to wait for the will to go to probate. It’s a good idea to review your named beneficiaries on all your accounts on a regular basis.
Land that is owned by two people as “joint tenants with survivorship” will similarly pass to the surviving individual should one party die. Reviewing the wording in a deed will tell you the exact legal basis between the two parties. A mortgage on jointly owned property will be the responsibility of the survivor, making this a good time to review whether or not the survivor could afford to continue making the payments. A deed recorded with multiple owners is often handled differently when one party dies, and this may vary by state law.
Isn’t a will expensive?
The answer is yes and no. For many people, a simple will is adequate to oversee the distribution of their assets. FREEWILL.COM can help. It will help you create your own will at no cost. It tells you what documents to gather to get started. You step through their online forms, and they do the work to turn your answers into the precise legal language you need. You’ll receive a printable document and by following their instructions you can complete the process for a legal and binding will.
Some people will work through the process recommended by FREEWILL.com and realize that they do indeed need a more robust document, and this will confirm to them that they should invest in the services of an estate planner who can help them create the individualized documents that they require. The more assets you own, and the more complicated your situation, the greater the need for a finely structured document created with the help of an estate planner. If you feel you need the guidance of someone who can consider alternatives such as a revocable living trust, you will likely need to consider hiring an estate planner to help you.
Don’t miss an issue of our Quarterly Newsletter. Sign up now.