Even if you have yet to create one, you likely know how important it is to have a Last Will and Testament in place. At what point in your life, however, does it become important to have a Will in place and when should you start creating a Will? Despite what many people think, everyone over the age of 18 needs a Will in place. You do not need to wait until you have made your fortune, married the love of your life, or become a parent to begin creating a Will. If you have yet to get started on your Will, now is the time to do so.
What Is a Will?
A Last Will and Testament is a legally binding testament, in writing, that allows you to make gifts of assets from your estate to designated beneficiaries. Those gifts are then honored after your death. Your Will also allows you to make two additional important decisions. First, you will appoint someone to be the Executor of your estate in your Will. The Executor of your estate is responsible for overseeing the probate of your estate following your death. Second, you have the ability to nominate a Guardian for your minor children in your Will. Your Will, in fact, is the only opportunity you have to tell a judge who you would want to take over the care of your children if a Guardian is needed.
When Should You Begin Creating Your Will?
If you do not have a valid WIll in place you are hardly alone. Surveys show that despite understanding the importance of having an estate plan in place, over half of all Americans do not have one. Many of those people do not even have a simple Last Will and Testament in place. Why do people — likely including you — put off creating a Will?. By far, the two most common reasons given for the absence of a valid Will are:
- “I thought you only need a Last Will and Testament if you have a substantial amount of money and/or valuable assets.
- “I thought I only need to execute a Will after I get married and/or have children.”
The reality, however, is that every adult should have a Will without regard to age or financial status. While it is true that your estate plan will likely grow and become more complex as you age and the value of your estate increases, you can benefit from having a Will in place at any age and without having more than a modest estate. Therefore, if you are over the age of 18, it is time to start planning your Will if you do not have one already.
Why Is Creating a Will So Important?
Understandably, you may still not be convinced that creating a Will is truly important because you have yet to hear why having a Will in place is so important. Sometimes, the best way to convince someone of the need to do something is to explain what happens if they don’t do it. That tactic often works well when discussing the need to create a Last Will and Testament.
When you die, your estate will be required to go through the legal process known as “probate.” During probate, your estate assets are identified and valued and creditors of the estate given the opportunity to file claims against the estate. Eventually, at the end of the probate process, assets that remain in the estate are transferred out of your estate to the new owners. Who the new owners are, and whether or not you get to decide who they are, depends on whether you die “intestate” or “testate.”
If you die without a Will in place your estate will be considered an “intestate” estate. As such, the New York intestate succession laws will determine what happens to your assets. If you leave behind a valid Last Will and Testament you are said to have died “testate” and the terms of your Will decide who receives your estate assets at the end of the probate process.
If you are still young, you may have few assets to leave behind; however, you will leave some assets behind. Moreover, you may care who gets the assets you do leave behind because they are family heirlooms or have sentimental value. If you die intestate, however, you give up the right to decide what happens to your assets, meaning that promises made to close friends, charities, and distant relatives will not be honored. Instead, the New York State intestate succession laws will dictate that your entire estate be given to your parents or siblings if you are unmarried and have no children. You will also not be able to decide who administers your estate during probate because you chose not to appoint an Executor in your Will. If you are a parent, the most powerful incentive to not die intestate is often the simple fact that doing so means you give up the opportunity to express your wishes with regard to a Guardian for your child. Finally, you never know when your estate will grow. You could get a job offer tomorrow making triple what you make today, win the lottery and become a millionaire, or find that you were left a small fortune by a recently deceased relative. Because life and death are unpredictable, your windfall could be followed by your untimely death, leaving a fortune to be distributed according to the laws of the State of New York instead of your wishes. For all of these reasons, now is the time to start creating a Will.
If you have questions or concerns regarding creating a Will, please join us for an upcoming free seminar or contact the experienced New York estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.